On Sept. 28, Brady Snyder of the Deseret Morning News wrote this lead: "Mayor Rocky Anderson used Salt Lake City tax dollars to pay a $457.88 bar tab." The ramifications of this recklessly deceptive and inaccurate characterization rapidly created the widespread perception that I bought nothing but liquor and stuck taxpayers with the bill.
The deceptive language of this writer was parroted by other local media outlets, who did not do their own independent inquiry, and repeated by the Associated Press for distribution around the country. News stories about my "bar tab" were then published by USA Today. KHNL TV in Hawaii reported: "Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson considers a little booze part of the job. He wants the city to pick up his bar tab. . . . Anderson used tax dollars to pay bar tabs last month of about $450 and $135." We have received e-mail messages from citizens who are angry about what they have read or heard all a product of media misrepresentation.
This is particularly outrageous inasmuch as I am exceptionally frugal with taxpayer money. As any reporter could easily ascertain, my nontravel-related expenses for meals and other expenditures charged to the city since becoming mayor over five years ago average only $90.12 per month. That average is higher than it would otherwise be because of my efforts to provide hospitality to some of our visitors during the Jazz Festival and Sundance Summit (remember, this is all about less than $1,000 for the events in question).
Here are the facts about the two "bar tabs." Following a reception after a symphony hall performance on July 6, I arranged for Keith Lockhart, his parents and several remarkable musicians to grab a late dinner at Squatters brew pub. Some of the diners had a beer with their dinner. I charged part of the dinner bill ($175.86) to the city, which was normal, appropriate hospitality.
On the following Saturday, several mayors from around the country (in town to attend the Sundance Summit) came to Salt Lake City early to enjoy our International Jazz Festival. After the concert, I invited them to meet at the Grand America, where Barbara Morrison was performing in the lobby restaurant. I got the mayors and some other people together so they could become acquainted and feel welcome.
Providing what was good hospitality under unique circumstances, I charged to the city a part of the bill ($457.88) for cover charges, dinner, other food and beverages (including some alcoholic beverages).
In a "news analysis" (Oct. 8), where, oddly, he analyzes his own reporting, Mr. Snyder maintains that the term "bar tab" was appropriate because the Grand America venue was a "private club." According to Mr. Snyder, a private club is Utah's equivalent of a bar; therefore everything on the bill can be considered a "bar tab." This is an odd rationalization for using such deceptive language.
Two problems: First, no one would consider the New Yorker or the Alta Club, both of which are private clubs, to be a "bar." Second, the Grand America venue was not a private club, as falsely represented by Mr. Snyder. It operated as a restaurant a discernible fact for any reporter concerned with the truth.
After repeatedly mischaracterizing a dinner bill to be a "bar tab," Snyder claimed that I spent gobs of taxpayer funds on a bicycle trip from Lyon to Torino. Then the Deseret Morning News claimed that I paid the taxpayer funds back with private contributions. All these claims are false. Not a dime of taxpayer money was spent for my trip and, in the end, no taxpayer funds will have been spent on the Message to Torino project. Everything was entirely legal and not only appropriate but furthered an important public objective carrying on an Olympic tradition of sending a delegation to deliver a message on the environment to the next Winter Olympic host city without the use of any fossil fuels. Lillehammer delivered such a message to Nagano, and Nagano delivered a message to Salt Lake City in 2002.
In the midst of this media weirdness, I was being interviewed by a Guardian reporter, Gary Younge. Snyder called to talk to me yet once again about the so-called "bar tab." During the conversation, Younge shook his head and laughed. Referring solely to Snyder's misinformation campaign and his (and the Deseret Morning News') fixation on the consumption of alcohol, I laughed and joked with Younge: "Sometimes it feels like I'm in the middle of a Kafka novel, with a little Taliban thrown in." Younge quoted me, lightheartedly, in his Guardian article.
After reading Younge's article, Snyder asked me if I had in mind the LDS Church when I made the comment about the Taliban. I said, "Absolutely not. I was referring to you and your newspaper." The next day the Deseret Morning News ran the headline, "LDS Church not Taliban, Rocky says." The reporter dreamed up the association, I told him that is not at all what I had in mind, then the newspaper published a "Mayor-denies-still-beating-his-wife" kind of headline obviously calculated to enrage the newspaper's mostly LDS readership.
Editor's note: Senior editors at the Deseret Morning News stand by Mr. Snyder, his reporting and the accuracy of the stories as they appeared in the newspaper.