Salt Lake Blues
A behind-the-scenes look at how an ill-fated
deal with a tabloid cost two Salt Lake Tribune reporters
their jobs, toppled the paper�s editor and caused
the Tribune major embarrassment.
By Rachel Smolkin
Michael Vigh knew what would happen the moment he and his reporting partner and alter ego, Kevin Cantera, cashed their $10,000 checks from the National Enquirer. "When we made our deal with the devil, our careers were going to be over," Vigh says. But he cashed the check anyway.
Cantera thought his friend was being too pessimistic. He agreed their careers would be ruined if word leaked that the Salt Lake Tribune's lead reporters on Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping had helped the tabloid on a salacious story about her family. But he hoped their secret was safe--and, for nearly a year, it was.
On April 27, Tribune Editor James E. "Jay" Shelledy disclosed in his Sunday column that Cantera and Vigh had talked to the Enquirer for a July 2, 2002, story, an act "akin to drinking water out of a toilet bowl."
After 12 years at the Tribune's helm, Shelledy was no battle neophyte. During the last three years alone, he had survived a bitter ownership change while keeping his staff focused on coverage of the Winter Olympics, their "finest hour." But now he was tired, his energy sapped by incessant turmoil. This is going to blow up, he told his wife, and I don't think I can survive this one.
Tom Smart, Elizabeth's uncle and a longtime photographer and editor at the rival Mormon Church-owned Deseret News, had a much earlier inkling of the future. Days after Elizabeth's June 5, 2002, kidnapping, he saw Cantera and Vigh introduced on television as the "Woodward and Bernstein of Salt Lake City." Although they didn't name Tom Smart, the reporters obviously were referring to him--and clearly trusted their police sources--as they repeated speculation that a family member was involved. Pity the fools, a spent Tom Smart thought. "One thing I was really sure of is that it wasn't me."
The Salt Lake Tribune saga is tinged with irony and laced with sadness. Shelledy's shocking Sunday column ignited a fast-burning fire that scorched him and singed his staff. On Tuesday morning, Shelledy fired Cantera and Vigh. On Wednesday, the Tribune published "A Statement from Tribune staffers," an ethics manifesto signed by 43 newsroom employees that bared staff pain and anger at Shelledy's cavalier handling of the affair. William Dean Singleton, the Tribune's new publisher and chief executive of the paper's owner, MediaNews Group, arrived in the newsroom that afternoon and solicited staff feedback about Shelledy, fanning smoldering frustrations about the blustery editor's management style. On Thursday afternoon, Shelledy resigned, saying he no longer had enough support to effectively lead the paper.
Confronting a public relations debacle and a scarred newsroom, Singleton acted quickly to provide closure. The ethics eruption occurred even as he delivered his farewell address as chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, telling publishers at the annual meeting in Seattle that "this is a great time" to be in the business. Before Singleton took control of the Tribune last August, he had asked Shelledy to remain as editor. But when Shelledy resigned, Singleton installed a trusted employee he had initially considered for the job.
Shelledy, a bearish 60-year-old, is widely credited with energizing and elevating the Tribune. He ordered or encouraged the departure of many staffers when he arrived and recruited fresh talent. He hired Jim Fisher, now a University of Utah assistant professor of communication, to modernize the paper's layout, art and design. He pushed for strong local stories on A1. A staunch defender of the First Amendment, he displayed willingness, even zest, for taking on sacrosanct government and religious institutions, including the Mormon Church. He trusted his reporters and delighted in helping young journalists flourish.
But many employees also perceived Shelledy as stubborn and capricious, a micromanager who created a star system and undermined his editors by going directly to reporters. "Jay can be and often was a nasty and arrogant boss," says Managing Editor Tim Fitzpatrick, whom Shelledy steadily promoted and appointed to his current position. The staff eruption "goes beyond this incident. It became a lightning rod for a lot of the staff who had been...singed by him at one time or another."
Cantera and Vigh were among Shelledy's stars. Vigh, 33, had come to the Tribune five years earlier from the Tooele Transcript Bulletin, a tiny twice-weekly about 30 miles southwest of Salt Lake. Cantera, 34, arrived three years ago from Salt Lake's alternative City Weekly. Both worked as police reporters and covered security at the Winter Olympics; Vigh also had the stressful task of tracking the ongoing legal battle for Tribune ownership (the former family owners are trying to buy it back). Aggressive, accurate, good writers, cocky, "kind of swashbucklers," is how Shelledy describes them, adding, "they would go down firepoles for you."
The two reporters worked together frequently. Shelledy sometimes called them "Vigtera"--melding names in a way that recalls legendary Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee's "Woodstein" moniker for another pair of talented young reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. In retrospect, the irony is inescapably clear: Fired from their newspaper and hoping to avert a lawsuit, Vigh and Cantera revealed their law enforcement sources to Randy Dryer, the Smart family attorney and one of Utah's leading First Amendment lawyers. Three decades after Woodward and Bernstein helped bring down a president, Deep Throat's identity remains Washington's best-kept secret and an endless parlor game for journalism classes. (See Free Press, March 2002 and June 2002.) "They not only weren't Woodward or Bernstein, but they didn't have Ben Bradlee either," Tom Smart says. "Ben Bradlee could have saved their ass."
Shelledy had tried to save their jobs and shield their sources. Fingered by the Enquirer as its sources of salacious information, Cantera and Vigh tried to resign from the Tribune on April 17. Shelledy told them the actions they grudgingly described did not quite constitute a firing offense and enlisted the help of the Tribune's lawyer.
Twelve days later, the two fired reporters sat in Dryer's windowed office overlooking the Oquirrh mountains and divulged who had leaked them lurid information that the tabloid ultimately apologized for and publicly retracted as "inaccurate and false." Cantera admitted that he embellished the crucial detail of a family journal alleging homosexual activities by the Smart brothers. That detail had bolstered the Enquirer story's credibility because the Smarts are prominent members of the Mormon Church, which encourages members to keep journals recording both good and bad activities in their lives.
"It's pretty damning," Dryer says, "and it didn't exist."
Within days of Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping, tensions flared in the second-floor Tribune newsroom, located on Main Street in a compact downtown set in a basin ringed by the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains and anchored by the Mormon Church's Temple Square. The national media descended, besieging Cantera and Vigh for background expertise and plying them with requests to appear on television (see Free Press, June/July). Anonymous sources leaked theories about the family's involvement. Shelledy urged Cantera and Vigh to stay out front on the story.
"The Smart story was different than...just about any story I worked on," says Editorial and Opinion Editor Vern Anderson, then deputy editor for news. "It was clear that Jay was running the reporters to a degree that I had not experienced at the newspaper." Anderson, a former Associated Press news editor for 19 years, sat with Cantera and Vigh early in their coverage and asked some pointed questions about their sources: What agencies did they represent? Were they directly involved in the investigation? "Jay came to me within a day and essentially told me to back off questioning them about their sources."
Anderson's frustrations culminated on Saturday, June 15, 2002. During the previous week, Cantera and Vigh had written a copyrighted, front-page story about a theory by unnamed investigators that Elizabeth had been abducted by an extended family member who staged it to "look like the work of an outsider." That story did not name Tom Smart, but the Deseret News soon did, first in a column defending him and then in a page-one, copyrighted story on June 15.
The "rumor mill has churned out Tom Smart's name as the extended family member authorities may be focusing on," said the story, which quoted Tom Smart and disclosed his status as a staff photographer in the eighth paragraph. (The paper, which changed its name in June to the Deseret Morning News, is the Tribune's JOA partner.)
Vigh and Cantera then prepared a story for the Sunday Tribune that named Tom Smart and blamed the Deseret News for identifying him. "D-News Puts Girl's Uncle In Spotlight; Tom Smart, called focus of probe by paper, proclaims his innocence," the headline said.
Shelledy, at his family cabin in northern Idaho, discussed that story with Vigh by phone before it was published. Vigh conveyed to weekend editor Tony Semerad that "it was not to be changed," Anderson recalls. (Vigh disputes that, saying, "I wasn't in a position to tell my editors it wasn't to be touched.") At his breaking point and already searching for another job, Anderson did something he deeply regrets: "I just walked out." On Sunday, when the story ran, Shelledy rebuked Anderson for not doing his job, saying he didn't pay Anderson to accede when he disagreed. "I was physically ill," Anderson says. "I came into the news meeting on Monday morning and said to all of the editors that sort of thing would never happen again as long as I was employed at the newspaper."
Anderson was not the only one upset by the Sunday story and its fallout. Vigh, sure he had understood Shelledy's directions correctly, says Shelledy nevertheless made him call Semerad to say he had mistaken Shelledy's instructions about the direction and tone the story should take. Vigh and Cantera say Anderson called their story "an abortion." Angered by unappreciative editors, long hours and low pay, Vigh, the father of three, considered quitting. Adds Cantera, also the father of three, "You never heard from a boss until you did something wrong."
Into that simmering frustration stepped the National Enquirer. That Sunday, Father's Day, was Cantera's and Vigh's first day off since Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping. They agreed to meet Enquirer correspondent Alan Butterfield at the tony Rivers restaurant for what they envisioned as a "bull session" to gauge his knowledge. Vigh and Cantera gave this account of the meeting: They were sharing rumors they'd heard, and so was Butterfield. There were many drinks at the four-hour dinner, and hyperbole was flying. They discussed a rumored computer log or e-mail--a "diary," they say Butterfield termed it. Sure, a diary, Cantera agreed. Butterfield initially offered them a total of $100,000 to "flat-out confirm all this stuff for him, be his source," Cantera says. When the $10,000 apiece figure surfaced later, it sounded comparatively low, so Vigh and Cantera figured they were merely speaking on deep background. They say Butterfield told them they wouldn't get paid until he could confirm their information.
The next day, Butterfield called Cantera to say he was proceeding with the story and wanted to check his facts. Cantera, caring for a sick child and eager to get off the phone, said what he thought Butterfield wanted to hear. He replied that everything they had discussed at dinner was solid, that he had a source or two for various details. "I crossed a line," Cantera says. "I was very loose and fast." Although Cantera didn't know it then, Butterfield taped the call. At the conversation's conclusion, Cantera says he told Butterfield to confirm everything. But when he later heard the tape in Dryer's office, he knew Butterfield had him "dead to rights."
Butterfield, a freelancer for the Enquirer, refused to share his tape for this story. "It's my material, and I want to save it," he says adding he may release it publicly one day. Nor would he play abbreviated segments via telephone, lest he be secretly taped. "I don't have anything to gain by talking to you," he said. He displays only contempt for Vigh and Cantera, who "have the credibility of a used-car salesman, with apologies to the used-car people.... It's done. It's over.... They got fired. I'm still working."
Butterfield disputes that he would offer $10,000 for unconfirmed information and says payment is based on publication of a story. "They provided information for the story. They vouched for the veracity of the information. They told me in very pointed detail who gave them this information, and it's all on the tape," he says.
On July 2, 2002, the Enquirer ran its story, written by Butterfield and four other reporters, with the lurid headline "Utah Cops: Secret Diary Exposes Family Sex Ring." It reported that police had discovered "a shocking gay sex scandal involving [Elizabeth's] father Edward and two uncles." Tom Smart's reaction was disbelief. "It was sick," he says. "It was just painful." But fearful of anything that would distract them and the public from their overarching goal of recovering Elizabeth, the family did nothing.
On March 12, 2003, police found Elizabeth alive in suburban Salt Lake City. Leaks sprang quickly about what had happened while she was in captivity, and this time, with Elizabeth safe at home, the Smarts decided to track down the anonymous sources who were spreading lies and rumors about their family. They hired Dryer, a prominent media attorney who had built his career defending journalists.
Dryer believed the Smarts had been victimized by law enforcement leaks. He called Michael Kahane, the Enquirer's attorney and an acquaintance, and subpoenaed the tabloid's records. The Enquirer then provided source sheets citing Cantera and Vigh as the sources of salacious information that most disturbed the Smarts. "The sources who were confidential were redacted from those source sheets, so their identity was not disclosed," Kahane says. Although Vigh and Cantera were told their names would not appear in the story, Kahane says they were not promised confidentiality and "we did not disclose any confidential sources." Dryer never dreamed the story would involve journalists as sources but credits the Enquirer with "acting very responsibly, which is sort of one of the ironies in this."
Vigh says Butterfield called him to say the Smarts were challenging the story and thought Vigh and Cantera were the sources. Vigh later called Kahane, who told him the Smarts wanted to know the identity of their sources but weren't planning to publicize the reporters' involvement.
The denouement that Vigh had feared at the start was rapidly approaching. The pair told Managing Editor Fitzpatrick and Sheila McCann, their direct editor, that they needed to resign--but refused to say why. After unsuccessfully interrogating them, Fitzpatrick said he accepted their resignations but needed to submit them to Shelledy, vacationing at his cabin that Thursday before Easter.
Fitzpatrick called Shelledy, who demanded to speak with Vigh and Cantera. During a tense, 45-minute telephone conversation, Shelledy informed them: You're going to tell me, damn it. You should tell me as your editor why you're going to resign. Vigh and Cantera said they were paid to provide background information to the Enquirer. In the course of the conversation, Shelledy says he came to believe that the reporters were going to turn over their sources to Dryer. Angry that they had violated Tribune policy by freelancing without permission, Shelledy--who 25 years earlier nearly had gone to jail to protect his own sources--says he also was concerned about the dangerous precedent of disclosing sources.
The next week, as Tribune lawyer Michael O'Brien negotiated with Dryer, Shelledy dismissed entreaties by Fitzpatrick and McCann that the paper publish a news story about the Enquirer connection, saying it was crucial to keep the circle tight. He was leery of seeing the scandalous development surface first in the Tribune's bitter rival. "The Deseret News has a direct pipeline to the Smarts," he says. "The second we would have inquired about this, they would have lit up the Christmas tree" at the News.
Instead, Shelledy disclosed the reporters' meeting in his April 27 column. He wrote that Vigh and Cantera provided a "background road map of the case for compensation" without "seeking the required permission." Talking to the National Enquirer, he added, while "dumb, distasteful and, when observed, embarrassing" was by itself "neither illegal nor unethical." He offered no empathy for the Smarts and said the family "demanded" that Vigh and Cantera reveal their confidential sources and never write or discuss what those sources had told them. He revealed neither the dollar amount the reporters received nor the punishment he crafted.
Shelledy had shown his column to Vigh, Cantera and a few editors before publication. A handful of reporters and editors had heard rumors. But the column came as a shock to most of the staff. It astounded and annoyed Dryer, who thought negotiations with the Tribune were ongoing. It enraged the Enquirer, which demanded a correction and retraction for Shelledy's statement that his reporters merely provided unsubstantiated rumors, assuming the Enquirer "played by mainstream rules" and would confirm the information, and for characterizing as "baloney" the tabloid's contention that Cantera and Vigh were its sources. It infuriated many in the community.
Fitzpatrick says Shelledy focused on the legal issues while losing sight of the public relations battle, and his column seemed insensitive to the Smarts. "He underestimated what we call 'Smart power,' " Fitzpatrick says. "The Smarts have become something of folk heroes in the world of crime victims and in the community, and deservedly so. They did get their own child back, much more than the cops did."
On Monday, an already-buzzing Tribune staff was greeted by a scoop in the Deseret News that Vigh and Cantera had been paid a total of $20,000 by the Enquirer, and that the tabloid had settled with the Smart family and apologized for printing false information. Reporters clustered in loud, angry meetings. Eastern Utah reporter Christopher Smart, a distant relative of Elizabeth Smart's family, watched the newsroom tumult in disbelief. He took a call from Shane McCammon, a reporter at City Weekly where Smart once served as editor, and told McCammon the scene looked like a "lynch mob."
Ashley Broughton, a friend and pod mate of Cantera and Vigh, was pained by the newsroom reaction. "People here like to refer to us as the Tribune family, but I don't think on Monday we acted very much like a family," she says.
Her pod was a "perfect" team, led by McCann, her adored editor. Vigh and Cantera's antics enlivened their corner. The camaraderie, jokes, singing and reality-TV banter made it "more light, more fun," agrees pod mate Matt Canham. Broughton arrived at the Tribune in 2000 and debuted as a police reporter the day of Elizabeth's abduction. She had respected Vigh and Cantera, who always seemed able to unearth and confirm information others couldn't. That night Broughton cried all the way home, distressed that people could be so "mean-spirited."
Around noon Monday, during an impromptu staff meeting in the conference room, the idea for a signed ethics statement began to take shape. It would not propose a punishment for Vigh and Cantera, whom Shelledy had placed on a one-year probation, taken off the Smart story and forbidden from writing a book or freelancing. But it would express many reporters' and editors' anguish that Shelledy had been too mild in condemning Cantera and Vigh's actions.
The pair was fired even before the statement was published.
On Monday evening, Shelledy learned of the Enquirer tape, and so did the editor of the Deseret News. John Hughes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Christian Science Monitor editor whose aristocratic sparkle recalls Alistair Cooke, was celebrating at a birthday dinner when a News editor called to report "dynamite" information. Hughes says the Enquirer's Butterfield initially had offered the Deseret News a quid pro quo--playing parts of the tape in exchange for a letter, which the News had apparently obtained, from Tribune lawyer O'Brien to Dryer describing Vigh and Cantera's initial account of their agreement with Butterfield. Absolutely not, Hughes replied. "We're not going to assist the National Enquirer in any way."
Butterfield ultimately agreed to play brief excerpts for reporter Lucinda Dillon Kinkead, whose page-one story Tuesday quoted a taped Cantera referring to his editors as "real lightweights." Sure of their fates, both reporters arrived at work early Tuesday and started cleaning out their desks. Shelledy fired Cantera for misleading him and gave Vigh the option of resigning. Then the editor fired Vigh as well, according to a Tribune statement, after the reporter "could not guarantee us that his recollection of what transpired with the Enquirer reporter is the same as he said was true last week." Besides, Shelledy told Vigh, the two reporters were intertwined.
Despite the firings, the newsroom proceeded with the statement, which was published in Wednesday's front section. "We believe what they did violates the basic tenets of journalism," said the statement signed by more than one-quarter of the staff. The letter divided the newsroom, revived old hurts and created new ones. It also showed how easily unintentional errors can appear in print: Reporter Canham's name was wrongly included when religion writer Peggy Fletcher Stack mistook another reporter's signature for his. Reporter Martin Renzhofer, placed on probation for a year with no bylines after plagiarizing a 180-word passage from an online encyclopedia, hesitated over signing but ultimately did. Several staffers were bothered that Renzhofer's punishment was stricter than the one Shelledy initially imposed on Vigh and Cantera.
Broughton didn't condone Vigh and Cantera's actions but refused to sign the statement. "I don't think that to be a good Christian you have to go around and tell everybody what a good Christian you are," Broughton says. "I don't think to be ethical requires you to shout that from the rooftops.... My sources know that I'm ethical."
As the newsroom circled drafts, Shelledy remained uncharacteristically passive. He had told Singleton several times during the past year that he'd stay through the ownership transition but needed another challenge. On Tuesday afternoon, Shelledy told Singleton that getting beyond the crisis might require his resignation.
Singleton arrived at the paper on Wednesday, the same day the ethics statement appeared, and he was quoted in the Tribune saying Shelledy had mishandled the affair. During a 45-minute meeting in the conference room, Singleton asked editors if the paper needed a change in leadership. Can Shelledy learn? asked Executive News Editor Peg McEntee, a little nervous and angry as she echoed a question that had arisen during the meeting. In the past, she said, it seemed that he had not necessarily learned from mistakes, but maybe this is the sledgehammer he needed. Later in the meeting she added a more searing indictment, saying it had been quite some time since she'd been able to look to the corner office for leadership, and she didn't believe that she ever would be able to look there for leadership. Her hand was shaking; she stared down at her notepad. After several quiet seconds, other editors agreed. Lisa Carricaburu, the business editor and a seven-year Tribune veteran, said she had never witnessed less confidence in the paper's leadership than she did then.
At the full staff meeting that followed, Singleton listened as reporters described their embarrassment and fear that the scandal had tainted the paper. Like the eruption that would soon follow at the New York Times, anger at the editor's handling of a scandal exposed latent fury at his autocratic management style. "When editors and your newsroom expressed as loudly as they did a concern about current leadership, you listen," Singleton says. "You can't ignore that. On the other hand, just because the newsroom gets gripey about an editor, you can't hold that against the editor. Show me an editor that the newsroom loves, and I'll show you an editor that's probably not doing his job."
At no point did Singleton proclaim he would not accept Shelledy's resignation, as Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. initially did when Executive Editor Howell Raines confronted a newsroom seething over his handling of reporter Jayson Blair and Raines' management style. "Arthur gave him a vote of approval, and we'll see how long that lasts," Singleton said two weeks before Raines resigned. "Any time I've seen a coach or anybody say that I'm behind [someone] 100 percent, he's gone in a month."
On Wednesday evening, Shelledy told Singleton the new publisher didn't need this mess, and nothing short of his resignation would clean it up. Singleton advised him to think about it overnight. On Thursday morning, Singleton talked with community leaders, including the mayor, and then apologized to the Smarts. When he returned to the Tribune, Shelledy showed Singleton his final column as editor. I don't think we've made the decision, Singleton told him. I've made the decision, Shelledy replied. He "got there on his own," Singleton recalls. "I had not decided what we should do."
At 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the staff assembled for another newsroom meeting. Singleton said Shelledy should be there, and an uncomfortable silence followed. Then Shelledy walked in and read his resignation statement. He called the past week "the hardest of my professional career" and expressed gratitude for his "4,444 days" as editor. People thanked him; he was teary-eyed, as were many on his staff. Then he turned and walked back to his office, and everyone clapped.
"The Tribune hit an iceberg and I was at the helm," Shelledy wrote in his final Letter from the Editor. O'Brien, the Tribune's lawyer for 17 years, calls that column refreshing. "He took the blame.... It's as admirable as it is rare."
In the days and weeks afterward, the staff has tried to heal. Every newsroom has rifts and rivalries; seldom are they exposed so publicly. Before Shelledy departed, he contacted the Poynter Institute's Bob Steele, who visited the Tribune with colleague Pam Johnson and later recommended changes in newsroom culture. Shelledy also commissioned a report by Joel Campbell, a Brigham Young University assistant communications professor and former Deseret News reporter, who tapped the University of Utah's Jim Fisher to help him. For their investigation, published unedited May 11 in the Tribune, they reviewed every story Cantera and Vigh had written about the Smarts. "Absolutely everything was accurate at the time it was printed," Fisher says. On June 6, the Tribune won first place in the 2003 Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press spot news contest for its "Alive and Well" stories about Elizabeth's rescue, anchored by Vigh and Cantera.
Singleton named Nancy Conway, executive editor of his ANG Newspaper Group in Northern California, as the Tribune's first woman editor. In the 25 years she had known him, she had earned his esteem. Before he decided to keep Shelledy on as editor, he had asked if she might want his job in Salt Lake. And before leaving the newspaper association meeting in Seattle, Singleton asked again. "He didn't say this is going to happen or that's going to happen," Conway recalls. "I don't think he knew then." After Shelledy resigned, she called Singleton. Do you want me for this one? she asked. He did.
Conway believes her "traumatized" staff must be allowed to voice embarrassment and disappointment. "But that said, it's also important that we don't get caught up in agonizing over this too much," she adds. She hopes to build teamwork and trust, to diminish office politics by focusing on readers and fulfilling the paper's watchdog role and First Amendment responsibilities. "I also need to be reassuring them to the degree that I can promise them that will not happen again."
Dryer, the Smart's attorney, turned over Vigh's and Cantera's sources to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. He acknowledges his success at uncovering sources will have a short-term "chilling impact" on reporters' ability to elicit information but says his actions will serve public interest in the long run. "Both sides are taking a hard, serious look at how they interact with one another," Dryer says. "Off-the-record conversations sort of became the rule rather than the exception," and the law enforcement and journalism communities got too close and casual. He predicts law enforcement officials will become more circumspect, journalists more cautious about using information from anonymous sources. (See "Important if True.")
Revealing confidential sources violates one of journalism's most fundamental tenets. In 2001, aspiring writer Vanessa Leggett, then 33--around the same age as Vigh and Cantera--spent nearly six months in jail rather than surrender her notes and other confidential materials on a Houston society homicide to a federal grand jury. (See "The Vanessa Leggett Saga," March 2002.) But Dryer says Vigh and Cantera's confidential sources may have manipulated them and fed them false information, raising questions about the reporters' obligation to protect them. "This wasn't some big expos� of government fraud that was serving the public interest, and they were the champions of the public's right to know," Dryer says. "This wasn't a Watergate situation."
Although Singleton emphasizes that none of the salacious Enquirer information was published in the Tribune, he adds, "this has caused all of our editors to raise their eyebrows and make sure our policy on sources is reviewed." Conway says she or Fitzpatrick will approve the use of unnamed sources, asking what capacity they serve, why they merit anonymity and, at least for now, what their names are. Singleton doesn't "think there's any circumstance where a newspaper should reveal [its] sources," a belief Conway shares. "I don't think we should ever give up our sources," she says. While there's always a danger that a source could use a reporter, "the principle is so great here. It's bigger than any personal circumstances. It's too slippery a slope."
But Tom Smart isn't so sure. "If you have a source that's dead-ass wrong and caused harm, I don't know that that's a source I'd protect," he says. He appreciated Singleton's "heartfelt" apology to his family and says life is too short for grudges against Cantera and Vigh, who are "paying a price" for their decisions.
The disgraced duo readily admit their mistakes over coffee at Denny's, a location they select to avoid former colleagues. "I don't defend what I did," Cantera said in mid-May. "I have taken a lot of public lumps, and I think they were all deserved." But their old cockiness has not been extinguished, their regret tempered by anger--at the newsroom "mutiny" that they believe cost them and Shelledy their jobs, at Singleton and at Shelledy himself. "I've been scapegoated for the sake of journalistic ethics," Cantera says. "I've been...sacrificed on the altar of journalistic ethics." They have chafed to hear themselves compared to Jayson Blair. "We were careful reporters," Cantera says. Blair "hurt his paper's credibility in concrete ways, and for all the people at the Tribune to say we hurt the paper's credibility just smacks to me like a little bit too much protest.... We were on our own time."
Vigh leans toward a tape recorder (this time they know it's running). "Jay deserved to lose his job because he didn't understand the impact this story was going to have," he proclaims. "How out of touch was Jay Shelledy?" Adds Cantera: "When I saw Dean Singleton's reaction, it made me want to vomit"--a play on Singleton's quote in the April 30 Tribune that when he heard the full facts, he felt like he would vomit. But underneath the bravado, the jokes about how alcoholism just wasn't for them, lies pain. "You gotta laugh or you're going to cry," Vigh says. In late May, the two former journalists found work as private investigators.
Their friend Ashley Broughton, reporting on the Elizabeth Smart case as the accused kidnappers near trial, is left to pick up the pieces. "There is sort of a sense now that people are questioning everything they ever wrote," she says slowly. "I don't think that they were liars. I think that they were good reporters. I think they were good people who made a horrible decision."
Correction: Due to a punctuation error, the original version of this story incorrectly suggested that Salt Lake Tribune lawyer Michael O'Brien gave the Deseret Morning News a copy of a letter he wrote to Randy Dryer, an attorney for Elizabeth Smart's family. O'Brien did not give the letter to the Morning News. ###