The Oregonian’s Huge Asterisk.

jake dockter
7 min readSep 24, 2021

The Oregonian is not disclosing its close relationship with business interests, calling its own integrity into question. This is not new but seems to be an issue they disregard. The Oregonian Editorial Board endorsed Ted Wheeler as many newspaper boards do. One of their reporters, Everton Bailey, hosted a debate for mayoral candidates, as many news orgs do. They covered Wheeler and his opponents, par for the course.

What they did not do was disclose their president, and member of the Editorial Boards, role in the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) and that the PBA’s Political Action Committee was helping fund Wheeler’s reelection.

Now, with the PBA and Clean And Safe’s contract and funding source is being debated, the Oregonian is again, avoiding disclosing their leaders relationship with the PBA.

White man in green shirt, outside and smiling.
John Maher (Oregonian)
John Maher President As president, John Maher oversees our business in Oregon with responsibility for strategic direction and day-to-day operations of the enterprise. John joined as president of Oregonian Media Group in September, 2016. 503–294–7654 | jmaher@oregonian.com

Last year, around the endorsement, I emailed and met with the Oregonian Editorial Board, asking about these issues. Many other activists also joined a call with them demanding other actions like appointing a Black employee to the board (still no action). One thing I asked about directly was Maher’s position with the PBA.

Chair John Maher | President, Oregonian Media Group. Photo shows Maher with suit.

In an email to me, Maher sought to clarify his position.

Therese Bottomly forwarded your email to me.

I am on the board of directors for the PBA and have been for nearly 4 years. I am currently Chair-Elect.

The PBA’s PAC is under the direction of the Government Relations Executive Committee. This committee develops endorsements and/or potential positions for presentation to the PBA Board for vote. I am not on that committee, nor have I ever been. I abstain from all political endorsement votes in my role as a board member for the PBA and also from any voting that may be required related to activities of the PAC. The Oregonian does not fund the PAC. My endorsement activities lie solely with The Oregonian/OregonLive.

The Oregonian/OregonLive co-hosted a mayoral debate with KGW. KGW is also a member of the PBA. Each of our organizations provided reporters to serve as moderators. I suspect that no one involved in the planning or execution of this debate ever discussed either organization’s membership in the Portland Business Alliance as it is not material to their work.

The four members of The Oregonian’s editorial board who participated in our endorsement process come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives on the issues we discuss. The opinions we express in our endorsement discussions are framed by that experience. At the end of the day, we vote to express an opinion (an “endorsement”) as a group. Sometimes editorial board members recuse themselves from specific activities based on the potential for personal gain for either themselves or a member of their family. My board activities in support of the PBA are on a volunteer basis in the interest of the larger community. The same holds true for my efforts as a board member for Sport Oregon and the Nevada Press Association.

Regards -

John Maher

President

Oregonian Media Group

I pushed further, and asked for more info, posted here:

Jake: You state, “The Oregonian does not fund the PAC.” However, the Oregonian is a member. Can you provide the details of this membership? Does the Oregonian provide any discounts or financial benefit to the PBA or its PAC (discounted ads, email lists, etc.)? Does The Oregonian pay due to the PBA and do any of those dues get routed to the PAC?

Maher: Oregonian Media Group pays membership dues to the PBA. PBA membership dues do not go to the PAC. PAC contributions are made individually and voluntarily by companies or individuals who choose to do so. Oregonian Media Group does not contribute to the PAC. Oregonian Media Group does provide discounted advertising benefits to PBA members (inclusive of the PBA proper), as well as other organizations from time to time. The PBA PAC is excluded from those benefits and the PBA is prohibited from deploying membership-based discounted advertising through Oregonian Media Group on behalf of the PAC. For further information on the PBA PAC, or PBA membership benefits, contact Andrew Hoan (contact details above).

Jake: You stated, “My board activities in support of the PBA are on a volunteer basis” Can you confirm you receive no financial compensation for PBA work?No discounts from other member orgs, no payment for travel to events, no assistance in any way?

Maher: I do not receive financial compensation of any sort from the PBA. Board membership, for all members, is voluntary. Oregonian Media Group pays dues as a member organization to the PBA and also pays costs associated with my attendance at PBA events, including travel expenses related to any PBA activities. The PBA as a business organization provides a host of discounts and perquisites for its thousands of member organizations (see member directory, available at portlandalliance.com). I believe the list of benefits can be found on the PBA website or can be obtained from the PBA’s membership team, or from Andrew Hoan.

Jake: Does Advance (owner of the Oregonian) provide ethics guidelines for endorsements or how its member papers handle these sorts of issues? If so, can you provide? Does the Oregonian provide ethics guidelines for its reporters on similar topics?

Maher: Advance believes strongly in independence for editorial boards. As such, it does not provide guidance. Endorsements are guided by what the members of the editorial board agree is in the best interest of the community.

Jake: From a public perspective, this looks to be a conflict of interest. May I also ask why it was not disclosed even to avoid the possibility of this interpretation? Would it not be in the best interest of the paper, the debate, and the PAC to disclose the relationship and account for it?

Maher: As I indicated previously, one committee of the PBA directs the Alliance PAC. I am not a member of that committee and am not involved in any of the PBA PAC’s political activities or endorsements. Oregonian Media Group provides no support to the Alliance PAC.

Most pertinent, I asked Maher to prove his insulation from the PAC.

Jake: Can you provide minutes from the PBA meetings that show you abstained from any votes related to the PAC?

Maher: I do not know whether or not the PBA makes its minutes publicly available nor do I have copies of minutes at my disposal. Andrew Hoan, CEO of PBA, can be reached at ahoan@portlandalliance.com for more information on this. Regardless, I have no objection to the PBA releasing information about my votes and/or abstentions.

I reached out to Andrew Hoan of the PBA for this info. He responded,

“…as a private entity we don’t distribute them outside of the organization as a matter of policy.”

He continued,

“2 — PBA membership dues vs. Alliance PAC support. I am confirming that membership dues do not fund the PAC. Membership dues are entirely separate. PAC contributions are (as is required by law) recorded with the Oregon Secretary of State and available on the Secretary of State’s website. You are welcome to review that public information there.

3 — PAC leadership is recorded with the Secretary of State as well and we update this as required. This information is also available on the Secretary of State’s website.

4 — Some staff provide support to the PAC, but PAC leadership is/are our members. As members, they are guided by our strategic plan that clearly states our values and priorities. Additionally, leadership of the PAC is guided by a charter which clearly articulates accountability and oversight. A number of our members, including but not limited to representatives of media, abstain from matters concerning activities of the PAC and endorsements.”

Maher insists he has has no interaction with the PAC but PBA refused to provide proof. I guess we have to trust them. Do we have reason to?

Now that PBA’s funding from Clean and Safe and its programs are being debated, The Oregonian is covering the story.

Image of Oregonian headline. “Portland Clean & Safe district vote moved to next week Updated: Sep. 24, 2021, 11:49 a.m. | Published: Sep. 23, 2021, 5:52 p.m.”

Here is one example and you will notice, no disclosure that Maher serves on the board of the PBA or the relationship between PBA and the Oregonian.

It should also be noted that other senior members of the Oregonian have connections to PBA. Amy Lewin recently made a move to the O from PBA. She as the PBA’s “Vice President, Strategic Communications” and now is the O’s “Vice President, Brand & Strategic Partnerships.”

Image of Amy Lewin’s LinkedIn, showing her role at O and PBA.

The Oregonian has called it own journalism into question and all reporting on PBA or Clean and Safe should come with a disclaimer at the outset. The fact that the community needs to, forgive the term, police the O into disclosing its own conflicts is concerning and should alarm all readers. The fact that this is a continued issues shows that the O does not proactively seek to maintain the last shreds of its integrity.

Should they seek to rebuild trust they should start with Maher resigning one of his posts, he can choose which. Second, each article they post about PBA or Clean And Safe should come with a huge asterisk, maybe on the cover and in bold. Disclose the conflict and put community first.

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jake dockter

Fighting for liberation of all people, usually against people like me.