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Her Honor

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Mayor Who Takes Pen Name Harms Press And Public

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011

Every mayor wants the local newspaper to run positive stories about his or her city. Few, thankfully, hide behind a fake name to write only positive articles.

Mayor Mike Winder, mayor of West Valley City, Utah felt the local paper, the Deseret News, was not writing enough positive articles about his city, so he decided to submit his own stories, under a fake name – Richard Burwash.

The paper encourages “citizen journalists” to submit stories to get a more local angle. “I thought about all the people just reading about crime in our city and nothing better,” said the mayor. He took on the name Burwash and used a photo of Peter Burwash, a former professional tennis player he found on the Internet.

Although he was not paid for his articles, he established a relationship with the paper, a television Web site, and a weekly paper – all by using email and phone conversations. Using his alias, he wrote more than a dozen articles. In some he quoted himself. He did not apologize for his actions, but has apologized for using the name and photo. He eventually told the Deseret News that Richard Burwash had moved to England.

The real Mr. Burwash was distressed, saying “It’s one thing if you’re a 16-year-old student. But he’s a high profile person in a state known for a good set of ethics.” An editorial in The Salt Lake Tribune put it succinctly: “Submitting ‘news’ under a false name, even going so far as to quote yourself—well, there’s one word for it: lying.”

Discussion questions:

• Do you think Mayor Winder should resign?

• Should the city council take any action, such as a censure?

• Is this action serious enough to prompt a recall?

• Can the public trust an elected official who has misrepresented himself?

 
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