He should resign as mayor of Utah’s second-largest city, and he should be fired from his job at a leading Utah public-relations company.
Because he has, through dishonesty, violated the ethics of his office and his profession.
Over a period of several months, Mayor Mike Winder created a fake identity he used as a “citizen journalist” to get several articles in newspapers and online. These articles prominently featured: People and businesses which were his political supporters and donors; a bond issue he supported; a client of his employer’s PR company; and a politician he supported for office.
Mayor Mike Winder wrote for KSL.com as well as the “Deseret News” and a suburban weekly newspaper. He did this using a fake identity – backed up by the real picture of someone he found online – and by lying to editors who tried to verify that he was who he said he was.
He claims he did this to get more “positive” news out about West Valley City, and that he stopped doing it because his conscience got the better of him. Neither of those claims is credible.
In the first place, the stories he snuck into the paper seemed less focused on the “positive” and more focused on getting publicity for his cronies. And in the latter, for a man feeling remorse, he went public in a flip, dismissive and defensive manner. Initially characterizing himself as no different than the authors of the “Federalist Papers,” who used obviously false pen names, Mayor Mike Winder presented himself as a humble defender of his city against the negative, liberal media.
He did not initially apologize. He instead attacked the statewide paper that had been the victim of his dishonesty – the “Deseret News.” He criticized its economy-driven staff cuts and threw out some seemingly bogus numbers contrasting coverage of “positive” news with crime coverage. He said that failings at the newspaper made his city look crime ridden.
He was wrong.
It’s not biased newspaper coverage that makes West Valley City look like one of the most crime-ridden cities in the state.
It’s crime stats.
West Valley City, in fact, is one of Utah’s most crime-plagued cities. Possibly as mayor, the public official ultimately responsible for public safety, he might better have addressed this by fighting crime than by lying.
Mayor Mike Winder, like many Utah Republicans, loves to cite the Constitution. Unfortunately, in this instance, he chose not to follow it. The First Amendment guarantee of a free press gives the news media the write to function unfettered by government restraint. It also guarantees that the news media can function unfettered by government manipulation. In our society, we are keenly aware of the evils of government control of news media content. Under our law, the government cannot infiltrate the media and the government cannot directly use the press to influence public thinking.
Yet, as mayor of West Valley City, Mike Winder is unavoidably an agent of government. Anything he writes is not reporting, it is manipulation. It is propaganda. It is innately biased, and by hiding that bias through a fake identity, he conned readers.
This is not clever, it is conniving.
He laid his plan over months, almost as if it was an exercise in punking the new media. That raises serious questions about his basic integrity, and his professional honesty. Public relations is the science of influencing public thought, but the ethics of that field forbid being dishonest to do it. And this is as dishonest as the day is long.
There is no possible way that Mayor Mike Winder did not know this was wrong.
His months-long effort to conceal his deception prove that.
As an oft-published author, as someone who has spent most of his adult life in public relations – first for a family milk business and now for a PR firm – and as an elected official, every step of this man’s professional life taught him that this was wrong.
So did his upbringing.
“Thou shalt not lie” is pretty unequivocal.
But lie is exactly what he did. And only after seeing that some prominent Utahns were upset at his dishonesty did Mayor Mike Winder express any remorse.
He set the story of his fraud to come out on Veterans Day, going into a three-day weekend. He posted a Facebook update in which he thanked veterans for fighting to give him the right to use a pen name. He assailed his media victims. And he gathered to himself Internet supporters who saw him as a martyr in the fight against the media. Otherwise righteous folks asserted across the blogosphere that he had done nothing wrong.
But then he had to pay three full-year scholarships to an Indian school to buy peace with the man whose picture he had stolen. And the learned heads at the university were quoted disapprovingly. Then Mayor Mike Winder decided to go penitent, and play the misguided youth who had seen the error of his ways.
None of which is believable.
Because there is one thing this has taught us about Mike Winder.
He is a liar.
Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.
He should resign and be fired.
Because one thing is certain.
Nobody with any sense is ever again going to believe a single word he says.