A 60-year-old white woman from Spring Hill, Florida is quoted as saying that there is no chance a black man can win the White House. This same woman, Sandra Cichon, is quoted in a total of three St. Petersburg Times stories, the latest being from September 15. But in a follow up interview, Barbara Sowell of digitaljournal.com finds that Cichon claims she was never called by a pollster, as the paper claims, and never told any reporter that she wouldn't vote for a black man.
So who is right? Did the St. Petersburg Times merely make up racist quotes out of whole cloth and put words in the mouth of this woman or is she suddenly trying to take back what she said by claiming not to have been interviewed about Obama? Here's the story and you can decide.
On September 15, Adam Smith of the St, Petersburg Times wrote a story headlined "Black 'issue' hangs over presidential polls." Contained in the story are the following lines:
A pollster calling Sandra Cichon, a 60-year-old Democrat from Spring Hill, would hear her identify herself as an undecided voter. But is she really?
“I can’t imagine having a black president, and I think he’s inexperienced,” she told a reporter recently, eventually acknowledging she was leaning unenthusiastically toward McCain. “I don’t think we (Democrats) have a chance to be in the White House with Obama.”
This quote sure makes it seem as if Sandra Cichon is a racist and cannot vote for Obama because he's black. This isn't the only time that Cichon is quoted by this paper, though. In two earlier stories writer John Frank (the original reporter as identified by Adam Smith) interviewed Cichon on matters political. Both appeared on August 27.
The first one, "Russell, Mitchell, Hackworth win congressional primaries," also gives us what we are told is a quote from Sandra Cichon.
The race was skewed by incredibly meager voter participation. Many Democratic voters said they were unimpressed with the quality of the candidates.
"I don't know one from the other," said Sandra Cichon of Spring Hill.
And in the second, "Dismal voter turnout in Hernando," another quote from Cichon makes an appearance.
The main focus of this year's primary elections were the three County Commission races. In one, Republican incumbent Jeff Stabins battled two challengers, Michael Burmann and Jon "Jaz'' Zydenbos.
In the other two, Republicans John Druzbick, Hubert "Wayne'' Dukes and Charles Gaskin competed for the chance to oust incumbent Democrat Diane Rowden in District 3; James Adkins, William "Billy'' Healis and Michael Robinson tangled for a shot at unseating Democrat Chris Kingsley in District 5 in the Nov. 4 general election...
Sandra Cichon, 60, cast a ballot at Spring Hill United Church of Christ. She left disappointed because she couldn't vote in the hotly contested commission races as a registered Democrat.
"I wouldn't even have come if I knew," she said.
Notice how neither of these stories is about either the racial issue or Barack Obama. They are both about local races and in neither did Cichon seem to make any racial utterances as then reported.
The fact that the only other Cichon quotes had nothing to do with race when the later report did made Barbara Sowell curious. So she called the Times’ Adam Smith about his story. Smith told Sowell that the Cichon quote he used for his September 15 story was gathered from the notes of reporter John Frank and that Smith didn't talk to Cichon himself.
In a phone call to Times Political Editor, Adam Smith, who authored the article in question, Smith said that he had the utmost confidence in the reporter, John Frank. Smith said that Frank was the reporter who actually spoke with Cichon. Smith said it is understandable that Cichon wouldn’t want to admit over the phone to making that statement, but “polls all over are showing that people are not hesitant in stating that they won’t vote for a black person.”
So, Sowell called up Cichon and asked her what her side of the story was. And since the Smith story mentioned a "pollster" who called Cichon, Sowell asked of that, as well.
The article fails to name the pollster who claimed to have called Cichon. When asked during my phone interview, Cichon denied speaking to any pollster on the phone.
Cichon explained that the only time she spoke with a reporter was in August when she went to vote in the county commission races. She said that he (the reporter) seemed nice and she gave him a catalogue for gift baskets.
"...This is crazy. I never spoke to any reporter about Obama. I’m going right down to the St. Petersburg Times and demand a retraction!"
It is a bit interesting to me that two earlier stories had no racial quotient at all and in both Sandra Cichon is presented as a Democrat. No hint of her "leaning unenthusiastically toward McCain" shows up in these earlier stories. Yet, as a month passes, suddenly Cichon is presented as a racist, Democrat apostate. Why the wildly different presentations of the same voter?
If it were true, would not the earlier two stories find it relevant to mention that Cichon was an "unenthusiastic" Democrat and might be considering a look at Republicans? Might that factor not make the local races somewhat more interesting? Yet, this whole Democrat supporting Republicans angle was curiously absent from the earlier stories.
I suppose there is no way to really prove who is telling the truth. It might end up being a he said (Adam Smith)/ she said (Sandra Cichon) tale. But it sure raises alarm bells in how differently Cichon appears in stories a month separated.
I report, you just scratch your head.