Column by Chris Graham
If I’m doing my job right, like an umpire in a baseball game, you don’t notice me.
So the fact that I’ve apparently ignited a mini-firestorm in Augusta County Democratic Party circles over my reporting on the Beverley Manor supervisors race on Friday isn’t exactly a good reflection on me.
The issue has to do with the manner of interviews conducted with candidates Lee Godfrey and Jeremy Shifflett for the story “Inside the Beverley Manor supervisors race” (Friday Augusta Free Press).
I interviewed Godfrey, the Democratic nominee, by phone for the piece – talking with her for 10 minutes or so on Tuesday morning, two days before what I had indicated to her was my Thursday-afternoon interview deadline.
The interview with Shifflett, the Republican nominee, was conducted via e-mail between Tuesday and Thursday – using the same questions that were posed to Godfrey.
Godfrey called me on Friday afternoon – a few hours after the story had been posted on the AFP – to say something to the effect that Shifflett’s answers seemed to reflect that he had been given the opportunity to put more thought to them than she had, and then to inquire as to how I had conducted my interview with him.
I answered immediately that I had requested a phone interview with him, as I had with her, but that he had gotten back to me to say that he was in the midst of a busy week with his home-inspection business and his small-farm business, and then asked if it was possible that we could do the interview by e-mail to accommodate his schedule.
Godfrey then asked why I had not alerted readers to this difference in the method of interviewing, given the obvious advantage that she felt the person being interviewed by e-mail would have to have – to which I responded that it seemed to me that there was no advantage either way, because while a person being interviewed by e-mail could do their best to make sure that they covered what they wanted to cover in their answers, the person being interviewed live had the advantage of being able to interact with the interviewer and thus respond to followup questions that would not get related in the static e-mail interview.
What I didn’t include in that response, but will note now, is that I didn’t give Godfrey a time limit on her answers – just as I didn’t give Shifflett upon agreeing to his request for an e-mail interview a word limit on his answers.
Neither did Godfrey ask me if I could give her an idea of what the questions were going to be ahead of time – which is a request that I get somewhat often from politicians and candidates for political office, and have granted upon request in every single case – so that she could have time to prepare.
Godfrey then made the request of me that the next time I did an interview on the Beverley Manor race she be given the option of knowing how Shifflett was being interviewed – on the phone, by e-mail or ostensibly live and in-person, since that is another preferred method that I use often.
I told her that I would do that – and then set myself to the task of making it clear to AFP readers, in my thinking doing so at Godfrey’s urging, that Shifflett had been interviewed by e-mail and that she had been interviewed by phone.
Having made that notation in the story, I want to think I have addressed the issue to Godrey’s satisfaction.
And let me just say here that I understand well the points that were brought up by Godfrey – that in the case of the interviews with Godfrey and Shifflett for this piece on the Beverley Manor race, it should have been pointed out that one was conducted by phone, and the other was conducted by e-mail.
I did not make that known on the first publication of the story, but now that has been done.
But that having been said now, I still do not agree at all with the assertion by Godfrey that the different methods of interview gave Shifflett some kind of unfair advantage – particularly, again, because she did not ask if I could give her an idea of what the questions were going to be in advance, which I have done upon request several times in the past, and because I did not give her any kind of limit to the depth of answers that she wanted to give, either in the form of a time limit to the interview or otherwise.
With all due respect to Godfrey and her assertions here, it’s still not clear to me what the unfair advantage was – and no, I’m not buying the suggestion offered by a reader in an e-mail to me this evening to the effect that for all anybody knows Shifflett might have had somebody fill out the answers for him as being that which constitutes his unfair advantage.
Though I am wondering if that might be the real issue that is being raised here – that some would want to have some others believe that Shifflett, who as I noted in the story on Friday is 23 years old, couldn’t possibly have come up with the answers that he offered in our interview all by himself.
I want to hope that this is not what is being said here – but I think it would be quite naive to expect that Shifflett’s age would not be made an issue in this race.
In any case, you now have before you the whole story – from what they had to say in their interviews to what one of them had to say about how they were interviewed.
Now if I can just go back to being the umpire in the baseball game …
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.