Yesterday, Salt Lake City Weekly published an article asserting that two SLC Council Members, Erin Mendenhall and Kyle LaMalfa, are engaged in an affair. This ignited an immediate firestorm on social media and in comments sections of the article, with many people making strong criticisms of City Weekly’s article for being anonymously sourced and for making big news out of something that is a private affair.
I don’t know LaMalfa, but I do know Mendenhall, and I like her. I’ve found her to be a friendly, earnest person and a dedicated and effective Council Member. I hate that this story has the potential to cause her embarrassment or harm her family and her career.
I do think, though, that it’s entirely appropriate for City Weekly to report on things like this. Elected officials are in the public eye by choice and because of that some parts of their lives that would be private for normal people are fair game for public consideration. City Weekly is a news publication, and, like it or not, information about the behavior of politicians is fair game for news.
That said, I find City Weekly’s approach in this instance to be disconcerting. The article is entirely anonymously sourced, and neither Mendenhall nor LaMalfa have actually admitted to the affair. There is no evidence presented outside of an assertion that “multiple” anonymous sources confirmed it to the reporter. And the article’s attempt to justify its own publication relies on reporting the travel costs incurred by Council Members to attend a conference in Minnesota and a weak assertion that: “A romantic relationship between two city council members raises questions about the ability of the pair to make sound decisions as they ponder the public’s business while sitting at the dais.”
Even if the allegation of the affair turns out to be true, which would vindicate City Weekly’s decision to address the topic at all, it wouldn’t vindicate their decision to publish in the way the paper did. If the story does turn out to be true, I’m of the opinion that while it might be a good illustration of how even smart people can make mistakes, it’s not necessarily reflective of either Council Member’s ability to lead.