Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Bottom Drops Out

In journalism, when an interview or a major media event first happens, there are nearly always easy if not critically important questions to be asked when the first round of information emerges.

In the case of the resignation of Nebraska's now ex-Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy, the Omaha World-Herald did a stellar job of investigative journalism, by asking the right first-round questions, and performing some serious journalism.

We now have all kinds of exacting details about the hours Sheehy spent flirting when he should have been performing work for the citizens of Nebraska, and even more details about the Bellevue doctor with whom Sheehy was having an affair. We even have a seemingly exhausting "tick-tock" that tells us when the World-Herald asked for information on Sheehy, and how they conducted their investigation.

The problem we're noticing now, however, is that both national and local media conveniently seem to think the story is over, now that the bottom has dropped out of Sheehy's political future.

Everyone from the local TV stations, to the local newspapers, to the conservative-leaning Nebraska political rumor-blog Leavenworth Street have already moved on to speculating about who might be running for Governor in Nebraska in 2014.

The questions almost no one seems to have the courage to ask are the same questions we began asking on Monday:

Who knew about Sheehy's affairs - and who would benefit politically from this information coming out now, just as the 2014 pre-election machines are beginning to rev up?

While Gov. Heineman did admit to the World-Herald he'd heard rumors of Sheehy's outside relationships, we know more than a few people in both the Nebraska and national news media and political scenes who also knew about Sheehy's dalliances.

Those people speculating that Gov. Heineman may have been looking to replace Sheehy with another better-behaved second in command more suitable for grooming for the Governor's office may have missed a key piece of news. Heineman has explicitly said he does not want his new appointee to become a candidate for governor in 2014.

We're more than willing to admit at least one member of our staff had heard, over a year ago, both rumors and confirmed accounts of questionable actions in public by Sheehy. Since neither kind of information involved Sheehy performing official state business while acting inappropriately, our staffer scoffed, but did no further digging. Being a cad may offend the ethical sensibilities of many, but it's not nearly the worst thing an elected official has done in his or her private time - and unless that official breaks the law, it's not a story.

That said, the individual who spurred the World-Herald to dig beyond the rumors may not even be someone in Nebraska politics. For the record, we've already got our eye on a few potential players, with means, motive, and opportunity, on both the local and national levels.

The public may never truly know the answer of why this information came out now, instead of earlier - or who was really behind the politics of the story.

After all, in a 24-7 image-focused media world, once the primary story drops into the proverbial drink, out of view and no longer with photogenic images to go along with the story, modern media executives quickly lose interest in paying for the work of investigative journalism.

At least in this case, we're very glad the World-Herald went swimming in the muck, and came up with the truth.

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