Listeners who tuned into Mark Reardon's talk show on KMOX (1120 AM) last Friday afternoon would have come away with a clear impression on Josh Hawley, the conservative running for Missouri Attorney General: The guy is a terrorist-loving idiot.
"It's getting nasty!" Reardon said at the beginning of his weekly roundtable "speed round." "One guy loves terrorists, the other guy, what's the deal with Schaefer?"
"Beholden to China," replied Jane Dueker, a regular panelist on the roundtable. Dueker was referring to State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who's also running for AG and is also accused in a new ad of allowing the Chinese to snap up Missouri farms
But then Dueker pivoted immediately back to Schaefer's opponent, the guy who "loves terrorists."
"What I find interesting is that the dispute over the terrorist thing — Josh Hawley, his name was on a United States Supreme Court brief defending a terrorist. So that's not untrue," she said.
Dueker went on to explain that Hawley has denied doing any work on the case, claiming that his name was accidentally included on the brief by the non-profit group he worked for. "Let me tell you," she said. "I'm a lawyer. I've been on one Supreme Court brief — two Supreme Court briefs. And there's never a time in which you don't know that."
But while Dueker may have made a good point about Hawley, it was a point she didn't make that has some journalists questioning her judgment. Namely: As an attorney, she's suing Hawley.
The suit was filed against both the candidate and his employer, the University of Missouri, in attempt to see if he was using university resources to aid his political campaign. Dueker's client is politician friendly with Hawley's opponent — and, she acknowledges, the suit is politically motivated.
Dueker didn't disclose her involvement in the litigation during the 2 p.m. hour of Reardon's show, which is when that speed round took place. The absence of a disclaimer led to a questioning tweet from seasoned political reporter Jo Mannies — and harsh criticism from KTRS talk show host McGraw Milhaven, who blasted Dueker's commentary on Hawley as "offensive."
Milhaven, who hosts the McGraw Show
, tells Riverfront Times
, "The listener should be told of the conflict of interest. She didn't do that. And when I was listening, I was embarrassed for my profession, and for KMOX. I thought Mark Reardon was better than that."
Reardon referred questions to KMOX Program Director Steve Moore. Moore did not respond to a follow-up request for comment yesterday or this morning.
Dueker, however, was happy to chat. She acknowledged the tweet from Mannies, and says that when she became aware of it, she disclosed her role in the Hawley litigation. That wasn't the first time she disclosed it either, she says. "I have disclosed it so many times," she says. "At one point, for three solid days, that was all I talked about!"
An attorney with Spencer Fane
, Dueker has long been a political player in town — both as a registered lobbyist (she reps Laclede Cab Co.) and a political adviser (formerly chief of staff to Missouri Governor Bob Holden, she also served in an unpaid role advising Steve Stenger's successful campaign for county executive). And as an attorney, she handled the high-profile litigation striking down the city's proposed minimum wage increase
It is Dueker's increasingly high on-air profile, however, that has led to some potential sticky situations.
A frequent guest on both Reardon and Milhaven's shows before being named a regular fill-in host on KMOX last year
, Dueker is also a regular member of Reardon's roundtable, which airs every Friday from 2 to 4 p.m.
She says her bosses at KMOX are keenly sensitive to the potential for conflict. Not only does she disclose to them in writing any lawsuits she's filed, but she also discloses something she acknowledges could be even more fraught: Clients who hire her for matters that never reach the public record.
"All my political stuff, it's pretty well-disclosed," she says. "But if something comes up where I have any interest as a lawyer and it's not public, I'll say, 'I can't talk about that,' and I won't. My first duty is to my clients, and I'm not going to jeopardize that."
And that duty, says Milhaven, is precisely the problem. Journalists are meant to be beholden to no one. Dueker clearly is not. "She's getting paid to sue someone, and then she's getting paid to comment on it," he says. "The audience doesn't realize she's getting paid by both sides."
People who hire her, though, surely see the appeal, Milhaven adds. "She can go to her clients and say, 'Hey, hire me, I'm so big and powerful I can go on the radio and talk about it,'" he says.
Not surprisingly, Milhaven blames his rival station, KMOX. By using a part-timer with built-in conflicts, he says, "They're selling air time to the biggest bidder, undisclosed to anyone."
Dueker doesn't see it that way — because, for one thing, she doesn't consider herself a journalist. "I don't think anyone thinks the roundtable is journalism," she says. "I'm there to be biased. I have an opinion — I'm supposed to have opinions." And beyond that, she says, she discloses all her conflicts as frequently as she can.
In that quest, the very medium of radio is a complicating factor; a print journalist can drop a disclosure into the end of a story and it's there for anyone to see who reads it. But with radio, does anyone really want a series of disclosures and denials to be repeated every hour? Yet there may not be a choice in light of the way listeners tune in and drop out. A single disclosure couldn't possibly do the trick.
Dueker isn't defensive about any of this, which is part of her charm as a radio host. She's dishy and opinionated — and given the chance to defend her own ethics, she doesn't hesitate to bring it right back to Josh Hawley, the guy she's suing over public records, the guy she insists defended a terrorist.
The case is not quite that simple, of course. Hawley made his name as an attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which focuses on cases involving the freedom to practice religion.
In the brief at issue, Becket Fund lawyers fought for a Muslim prisoner who, yes, had been accused of terrorism. But the lawyers weren't trying to spring him from prison; they were seeking to get the Arkansas prison system to allow him to practice his faith while incarcerated. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, ruling unanimously in favor of the man, agreeing with the Becket Fund that even a "terrorist" has the right to grow a beard
Now that's turned into an odious attack ad, claiming "Josh Hawley worked for a terrorist. He should never work for Missouri." The ad was funded by Schaefer's campaign, not a quasi-related PAC, which makes its suggestion even more odious: Does Kurt Schaefer really believe that any lawyer advocating that Muslims be permitted to practice their religion in prison should be disqualified from serving as the state's attorney general? Don't we want an attorney general who believes in the Constitution — even for Muslims?
By insisting his name should have never been on the brief in the first place, Hawley may be technically accurate
(the Becket Fund has said he didn't work on the case
), but he still looks shifty. And that's something the Jane Duekers of the world can't help but jump all over.
"I'm not representing Kurt Schaefer," she says. "I'm don't support either one of them. ... But I think Josh Hawley is an idiot to have his name on a Supreme Court brief and not know about it. I just think he's a dipshit for that."
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