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WFSB Channel 3 punts on good journalism — again

It's been quite a week for Connecticut politics, what with some Republicans claiming last week's riots in Washington were started by antifa leftists and the incoming House minority leader comparing the siege of the U.S. Capitol with the summer's Black Lives Matter protests.

Connecticut journalists have kept up pretty well with the turmoil.

Some of the curious news twists of the week have actually pivoted on Connecticut journalism, both good and bad.

On the good side of that equation, we saw fine reporting from Jon Lender of the Hartford Courant, who thoroughly explored what I would have to label the corrupt deal in which Gov. Ned Lamont used his emergency pandemic powers to bypass competitive bidding rules and award a $250,000 contract — with possibly more to come — to the public relations firm of politically connected Duby McDowell.

The stench of the deal floated all the way down here to the shoreline, overpowering even the odiferous worst of our marshes at a low tide during a full moon.

Lamont made a mockery of the legitimate use of the emergency powers. Why would there be a rush to appoint publicists for COVID-19 relief measures when the state has an army of public relations employees on staff, many making more than $100,000 a year?

It's not like it was some emergency measure to distribute masks or fire up refrigerated vaccine trucks.

And how else do we explain, except for political corruption, that the no-bid contract went to the firm of McDowell, whose one-time partner in the firm worked on Lamont's campaign.

McDowell and Courant columnist Kevin Rennie began last fall to jointly host WFSB Channel 3's Sunday talk show "Face the State."

So the Lamont emergency powers no-bid money diversion to a political supporter were even more unseemly, given that it is a monthly stipend directed toward someone who presides every week over what is often a televised report card on the Lamont administration, the state of the state.

The fig leaf that McDowell and WFSB first pasted over this mockery of good journalism was to say that the television host would avoid the topic of COVID-19.

But of course the conflict of interest is not limited to just the pandemic, because that was the reason for the contract. The conflict revolves around the governor awarding a generous no-bid contract to a publicist who had the power to influence coverage of his administration.

This is where Connecticut journalism gets a big black eye, with a major state television station leaving one of its signature news programs, meant to air a wide range of issues related to state government and policy, in the hands of a compromised host with a favor to pay back to the governor.

As sunlight began to shine on this unseemly deal, because of good journalism, WFSB finally gave up its fig leaf of avoiding just COVID-19 issues and pulled the plug on McDowell's and Rennie's hosting of the show, a decision announced at the close of Sunday's segment.

But incredibly both hosts said they will continue as political analysts for the station.

That's fine for the Courant columnist. But as a viewer, I don't feel comfortable hearing any political analysis from someone not only on the government dole but put there by a governor abusing his emergency powers.

This is another slap at good journalism.

Lamont administration officials admitted to Lender that the three-month, $250,000 contract to McDowell's company could be extended. Of course that would only make more of a mockery of the claim of the emergency nature of the no-bid award.

Fortunately, good journalism outside WFSB helped clear up the bad journalism on display at "Face the State."

It may be harder to stop a governor who can so blithely use the powers granted to him to address the health crisis of a pandemic to corruptly put a media news host on the government gravy train with a no-bid contract.

If only we could change governors as easily as WFSB can change hosts.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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