Malheur County’s economic development director urged to stop attacks on local newspaper

Greg Smith, director of the Malheur County Economic Development Department. (The Enterprise/file)

A national group of journalists has called on Malheur County’s economic development director to stop attacks on the Malheur Enterprise, condemning his actions in response to critical reporting by the newspaper.

The Society of Professional Journalists, meeting in Texas at its annual national convention, unanimously passed a resolution Saturday, Sept. 7, in support of the Enterprise.

The resolution was an extraordinary national rebuke of Greg Smith, who has served as the county’s economic development director since 2013 and also is a Republican state representative from Heppner.

The association’s resolution chided Smith for attempts at “silencing the Enterprise.”

Smith didn’t respond to written questions about the resolution, which was provided to him.

He and his agency have been the subject of in-depth reporting by the Enterprise in recent months, including the handling of plans for the Treasure Valley Reload Center, a proposed state-funded Nyssa project.

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Last month, Smith complained that the newspaper’s calls and emails outside of office hours amounted to criminal harassment, triggering a county request that Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe consider opening a criminal case. Wolfe last week said there was no basis to do so.

Subsequently, Smith wrote in a Facebook message to the Enterprise that he would be publicizing the names of businesses canceling advertising in the newspaper.

“Such conduct is typical of totalitarian regimes and are particularly abhorrent when practiced by someone who has taken an oath to support and follow both the U.S. and Oregon state constitutions, which both contain provisions guaranteeing freedom of the press as a check on government abuse,” according to the SPJ resolution.

The resolution urged Smith to “cease further attacks aimed at silencing the Malheur Enterprise by legal or economic threats.”

The Enterprise “has upheld the highest standard’s of SPJ’s Code of Ethics” while “boldly seeking truth and reporting it, acting independently and serving their community by keeping government accountable,” the resolution said.

“What makes this extremely egregious is the fact that this is a state official and also somebody that despite, obviously, a conflict of interests, is also supposed to be promoting businesses in that area and here he is openly advocating for the demise of one,” said Donald Meyers, regional coordinator for SPJ.

Meyers, a reporter for the Yakima Herald, first wrote about Smith’s attempt to launch a criminal investigation of the paper in a regional blog. He decided to take the resolution to the organization’s annual convention after reading an editorial by Les Zaitz, Enterprise editor and publisher, which detailed the threat of economic retaliation.

Meyers said when he spoke to people at the conference about it, they were shocked.

Meyers expected the organization’s condemnation may not mean much to Smith, but he felt it was important to back the Enterprise. He said that, like the paper did, the organization is “standing up and speaking truth to power.”

News tip? Contact reporter Yadira Lopez: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.