Handling the Domenici Disclosure

February 21st, 2013 · 6 Comments · journalism

By Denise Tessier

The Albuquerque Journal was handed a scoop with former Sen. Pete Domenici’s disclosure he fathered a secret child decades ago, a story that was quickly picked up by news outlets nationwide.

The disclosure story published Wednesday (Feb. 20) was the result of Domenici  contacting the paper with the revelation that New Mexico’s longest-serving statesman had fathered a child with the then-24-year-old daughter of a Senate colleague. According to the statement submitted to the Journal by Domenici, the disclosure was made to preempt release of the information by a third, unnamed party.

The Journal story ran on the front page – in terms of news judgment, it had to be run there – but was given a modest headline size atop a single column on the left side of the paper. This could be considered a “downplayed” position, but is justifiable in terms of news judgment considering the Journal did not come up with the information on its own. That, and the fact that the story involves an elder statesman, explains why the story carried the byline not of a reporter, but of John Robertson, the Journal’s state editor and senior statesman in terms of political coverage.

The second-day reaction story – “Domenici disclosure startling to many” – is already relegated to the inside pages today, with no index guide on the front page. The story, by the Associated Press,  gets into some of the  outrage expressed in comments in both national and local media immediately following Wednesday’s release.

A commenter on the Washington Post story wrote Wednesday that:

In 1999, Pete Domenici cosponsored the “Responsible Fatherhood Act”, which was

A bill to amend title IV of the Social Security Act to increase public awareness regarding the benefits of lasting and stable marriages and community involvement in the promotion of marriage and fatherhood issues, to provide greater flexibility in the Welfare-to-Work grant program for long-term welfare recipients and low income custodial and noncustodial parents, and for other purposes.

And a commenter from New Mexico on Huffington Post wrote:

Mr. Domenici, many of us in NM will never accept your apology because you voted to convict President Bill Clinton in the Senate impeachment trial because, among other things, “[t]ruthfulness is the first pillar of good character in the Character Counts program of which I have been part of establishing in New Mexico.” I find your actions a lot more aggregious (sic) than anything Pres. Clinton ever did. . . .

On that same site, another commenter posted part of the Congressional Record of February 12, 1999:

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico): I have listened carefully to the arguments of the House Managers and the counter-arguments by the White House counsel during this impeachment trial. I have taken seriously my oath to render impartial justice.

While the legal nuances offered by both sides were interesting and essential, I kept thinking as I sat listening that the most obvious and important but unstated question was: What standard of conduct should we insist our President live up to?

Do not underestimate, my friends, the corrupting and cynical signal we will send if we fail to enforce the highest standards of conduct on the most powerful man in the nation.

The President has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, in violation of his oath of office. ……..His behavior was unworthy of the Presidency of the United States.

Thus, I sadly conclude that the President is guilty of the charges made against him by the House of Representatives and I will vote to convict him on both counts before the Senate.

Today’s AP story notes that Domenici voted for Clinton’s impeachment after his affair with Monica Lewsinsky, adding:

. . .but this floor statement focused on the fact that Clinton had lied under oath, noting that the trial “has never been about the president’s private sex acts, as tawdry as they have been.

But in the same speech, Domenici cited the value of “truthfulness” and how it’s the first pillar of good character.

AP reporter Jeri Clausing also dug out a quote from the mother of Domenici’s secret child, Michelle Laxalt, saying:

Michelle Laxalt, who became a prominent lobbyist and Republican activist, was occasionally put in an odd position of publicly discussing the integrity of the man who is the father of her child.

In 2008, Domenici was admonished by the Senate ethics committee for his involvement in a scandal over the Bush administration’s firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

Laxalt defended Domenici’s integrity on CNN, calling him an honorable man who was supporting “no fewer than eight children.”

In seeking local reactions to the story, the AP reporter quoted just four New Mexicans: former state GOP chairman Edward Lujan, who among other things said he’d heard rumors of a child years ago but “didn’t care,” a Highlands University professor who said the revelation makes Domenici’s legacy “more colorful” and Gov. Susana Martinez, who said the senator’s work was a “separate and distinct issue” and that she was holding the Domenici family in her prayers.

The story concludes with:

Others weren’t as strong in their defense of Domenici and sizing up how the revelations would affect this legacy.

But then only one of the “others” was included:

“I’ll leave that for historians and other people to judge,” said former Gov. Toney Anaya, a Democrat who ran a close race against Domenici in 1978.

Preempting the third party by releasing the information himself was a smart move by Domenici in terms of public relations, and the Journal’s coverage bears that out.

A question that hasn’t been answered at this point is whether fear of exposure of this secret created any pressure on the senator’s voting decisions over the past 30 years – the bulk of his tenure. At the least, it will be interesting to see if the disclosure prompts a discussion on the naming of New Mexico buildings after those who are still living.

Domenici’s name is already up on the Federal Courthouse in Albuquerque, the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe, the education building at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (which removed Manny Aragon’s name from its Torreon structure), and the mental health facility at the University of New Mexico. And then, there’s a Domenici Institute for Public Policy at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Jerry N. Wesner

    “Today’s AP story notes that Domenici voted for Clinton’s impeachment after his affair with Monica Lewsinsky … ” Senators don’t vote to impeach; the Republicans in the house had already lynched … no, impeached … him. The Senate was voting to remove. Given the actions of Reagan which would justify removal, Clinton’s lie to protect two reputations, only one his, was pretty minor. His removal for such a puny cause would have been a blot on the nation’s history. A blot that Domenici, despite his slip, voted to add. Republican hypocrisy.

  • Cheryl Everett

    I think the Journal would have run a more prominent story and in-depth followup if Domenici had been on a crippled cruise ship being towed to port. Can you imagine if the not-so-proud father had been Bill Richardson or Marty Chavez?

  • Cheryl Everett

    On an unrelated matter (except for the common thread of Journal bias), I beg Journal Watch to follow and analyze the J’s “reporting” on a motion to censure Rio Rancho Mayor Tom Swisstack, who never met a corporate giveaway he didn’t like and who last week substituted his own state funding priorities to legislators in Santa Fe place of the Rio Rancho City Council’s formally adopted priority list ~ in direct violation of the City Charter. The City “delegation” in Santa Fe included a former City Councilor and the usual cast of characters from the RR Chamber of Commerce, but none of the current City Councilors. In fact, the new Council was not even informed of Swisstack’s lobbying mission. Apparently legislative rules do not permit Swisstack’s bogus project list (primarily a $900,000 grant to build a disabled children’s “theme park” on Rio Rancho’s border with ABQ) to be rescinded and replaced with the Council’s official priority list, though I question how this can be so.
    And the beat goes on.

  • James D. Robertson

    I think it is inappropriate to name buildings after living persons. The obvious unintended consequence should be reason enough not to do so!
    Manny Aragon’s name was placed on the Torreon structure for services rendered and removed for reasons not connected at all with his GOOD works. There is evidence to support the premise; if Manny were to run for public office tomorrow he’d be elected in a heartbeat! His list of GOOD works is long.
    In today’s world, folk hero Robin Hood would be hailed for his “take from the rich – give to the poor gig,” while simultaneously being trashed for dallying with maid Marian. To name a building or not to name a buiding -I think it’s time to get the priorities straght.

  • Denise Tessier

    Jerry, Thank you for your clarification — that the House voted to impeach Clinton (on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice), and that the Senate acquitted him on both charges. A two-thirds Senate vote to convict would have resulted in removal from office. On both charges, Domenici voted to convict.

  • Denise Tessier

    Regarding Mayor Swisstack — The Journal carried a story that was printed the day Cheryl posted this comment: http://www.abqjournal.com/main/2013/02/23/news/councilor-wants-to-censure-mayor.html

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