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Rolly: Legislators circle wagons against media

Published August 4, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It seems that whenever certain legislators are scrutinized in the press for their public activities, they run to the safe haven of a talk radio format hosted by friendly legislative colleagues to spin their own web of propaganda, knowing they will face no serious questions and will be allowed to twist facts any way they wish.

The use by politicians of their own media tool to counter stories they don't like and pretend they somehow are being balanced and fair, when they actually are presenting partisan ads under the guise of news, is the latest example of public officials circling the wagons, protecting each other, and viewing anyone not in their own clique as the enemy.

And the mistrust between those politicians and those employed to observe and report their actions to the public continues to grow.

A week ago, after The Salt Lake Tribune ran a thoroughly researched story by reporter Judy Fahys about self-described "Cowboy" Mike Noel, a Republican state representative from Kanab, Noel appeared on K-Talk's Red Meat Radio hosted by Rep. Greg Hughes and Sen. Howard Stephenson, both Republicans from Draper, to "set the record straight."

Interestingly, Noel, who is famous for not returning telephone calls and emails from reporters, refused to respond to several inquiries from Fahys from May through July concerning the story she was compiling.

But he was happy to talk about it in the friendly environs of Red Meat Radio, whose tag line brags about protecting Republicans from "evil Democrats" and "RINOS" (Republicans in Name Only).

He attacked the story's premise that while he has been an unflinching critic of the federal government, he has sought and accepted federal funds — about $25 million over the past 10 years — for projects of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, which pays him $95,000 a year to be its executive director.

Noel's argument, that went unchallenged on Red Meat Radio, was that money for many of the projects, and specifically the proposed Zion View project — which would add another $8.5 million to that previous $25 million — was money "donated" by oil and gas developers on federal lands in Utah, with half of that sent back to the state to be distributed in the form of community impact funds.

So, according to Noel, it is all state money, not federal money, and therefore the story's premise is wrong on its face.

There is only one problem. The money is not donated. The developers pay the federal government for leases on federal land to drill for oil and gas.

The Legislature, whose members include Noel and the two hosts of Red Meat Radio, acknowledges as much in its own budget documents, which refer to the funds as "federal mineral lease funds."

Noel discounted the larger premise of the story, which was that he used his position as a legislator to get preferential treatment from state boards, like the Drinking Water Board and the Community Impact Board.

Several other projects similar to Zion View have been turned down for the loans, specifically because the money should be prioritized for full-time residents, not part-timers who live primarily out of state, which is the case at Zion View.

The federal law also says that the state, while divvying up its portion of the federal lease money, should give priority to "those subdivisions of the state socially or economically impacted by development of minerals leased … ."

Kane County has not been impacted by mining on federal lands so it is generally not considered eligible for this funding, although the county has received millions for several projects from the Community Impact Board.

And $1.5 million of the $8.5 million for Zion View comes from the Environmental Protection Agency through the State Drinking Water Board. There actually is a prohibition in state law — which the Legislature made — that bars the state from sharing that money on projects that don't primarily benefit Utahns, like Zion View.

But why let those facts get in the way of a good boogeyman story like the evil press victimizing one of the "good old boys"? —