The mayor of West Valley City has done himself, his career, his other career, his city and one of the state's most prominent news organizations a giant disservice by engaging in a dishonest campaign to float self-serving propaganda as legitimate news.
Mayor Mike Winder, and his constituents, cannot shrug this off as a rookie mistake. In addition to being in his second term as mayor of the state's second-largest city, Winder is a public information pro with the Summit Group, one of the state's top PR and lobbying operations.
Yet somehow the mayor allowed his discomfort with what he characterized as the slant of news about his city as reported in the Deseret News too much crime, not enough prime to justify a series of actions that went far beyond any PR spin.
Winder created a false identity, taking the byline "Richard Burwash" and bolstering it with a photo of a total stranger, a phony Facebook account and email address, even identifying himself falsely in telephone conversations with editors. He did so to place a handful of West Valley City-related articles in the Deseret News and its corporate cousin, KSL.com.
The whole scheme came out last week when, in the only real scoop of his "citizen journalism" career, Winder fessed up to his activities and pledged to stop. Even so, he has stained his own political and public relations careers, even as he has tarnished the brand of the D-News and its Deseret Connect experiment to recruit more freelance writers to help fill the gap caused by that newspaper's massive staff cutbacks.
This is not a case of an artist using a pen name. This is a case of a public official seeking to deceive both the news media and the people who rely on them for information that is, if not totally unbiased, then at least filtered through writers and editors who are not secretly the subjects of the articles they publish.
The managers of the Deseret News and Deseret Connect have some hard thinking to do about whether their new business model will really be successful if it must bear the label caveat lector. (Let the reader beware.)
And the voters in West Valley City also have to think long and hard about whether they will ever again be able to trust what's coming out of their City Hall.