“So today I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge Damian for his outstanding work in television at NBC, his commitment to the community, his ability to bring light to issues that would otherwise get overlooked.”
— San Jose Councilman Xavier Campos, who presented a commendation to Damian Trujillo at a City Council meeting Oct. 25, 2011
As previously noted in this space, it’s nearly impossible to get Xavier Campos to agree to an interview. It helps, however, if you have a close relationship with the media-dodging councilman like NBC’s Damian Trujillo, who scored a rare on-camera chat last week.
Campos agreed to the interview with his longtime acquaintance—it’s not clear how good of friends they are, although they are friendly—in what could only be seen as a form of damage control. The timing was not an accident. Just a day before the interview aired, San Jose Inside and Metro broke the news that Campos invoked his Fifth Amendment to not incriminate himself before a grand jury investigating a fraudulent mailer connected to his former boss and close friend, George Shirakawa Jr.
Campos smiled nervously before telling Trujillo that he had nothing to do with the mailer that depicted Magdalena Carrasco as a communist, and helped him defeat her in their 2010 council races. Campos also said that he took the Fifth because he doesn’t trust the District Attorney’s office.
San Jose Inside was dubious about what would come out of the NBC interview and angered Trujillo by asking on Twitter if he would act as a “newsman or publicist” for the South Bay Labor Council. Would Trujillo “ask real questions or toss softballs,” the tweet wondered. Trujillo fired back and blocked SJI from his feed because, in his tweeted words, its writers and editors “SHAMEFULLY abuse the 1st Amendment.”
San Jose Inside, of course, encourages free speech and a free press, but it doesn’t subscribe to the kindergarten mantra that there are no dumb questions.
Trujillo’s interview was laughably soft on details—there was no mention of Campos’ free political consultants during the 2010 race, or the fact that illegal activity has surrounded the councilman at all career stops, or that the DA wonders whether Campos’ sister, Assemblywoman Nora Campos, paid Shirakawa $5,000 to dispatch the fraudulent mailers.
But the free airtime given to Councilman Campos could prove useful in shedding more light on the political corruption that has run rampant in East San Jose. Campos’ decision to do the interview might force him to testify at a later date, according to NBC’s legal analyst, local criminal attorney Steven Clark.
For now, it’s still unknown if the grand jury will invite the councilman back for an encore appearance. “The DA respectfully declines the invitation to opine on legal issues regarding Fifth Amendment waiver and the grand jury,” DA Jeff Rosen told San Jose Inside in a statement.
But Trujillo wasn’t done reporting. On Monday, he dug a little deeper—just not into Campos’ activities.
The newsman instead reported that DA prosecutor Karyn Sinunu-Towery gave Carrasco’s 2010 campaign a $100 contribution. This could represent a conflict of interest, according to Trujillo’s gotcha report, which relied heavily on comments from Campos’ attorney, Gregory Ward. DA Jeff Rosen told the TV station in a statement that he was aware of the contribution Sinunu-Towery made as far back as May of this year—when #Salivagate came to light—and considered it “nominal” enough that it didn’t present a conflict.
The mere appearance of a conflict is always to be avoided, as two ethicists told Trujillo. But NBC’s reporting focus seems to be a conflict in its own right.
Why say a “campaign donation sparks controversy” when the only person outraged is Campos’ attorney? Why focus on a $100 contribution while never reporting that Nora Campos’ assembly campaign gave $5,000 to Shirakawa around the same time of the fraudulent mailer? And why go after a prosecutor, who just successfully argued to have Shirakawa put in jail, harder than Xavier Campos?
One could chalk it up to Trujillo and Campos being friends, and there is evidence to support this. Multiple sources confirmed to San Jose Inside that the two have known each other for many years, which is why the interview was granted. On Oct. 25 2011, Campos made their admiration official, when he awarded Trujillo with an official commendation from the City Council. In a press release, Campos called Trujillo “a reporter who understands the importance of ethical reporting and is not afraid to push the envelope to get the truth behind a story.”
Trujillo, joined by nearly all of his family, thanked Campos and called the award “humbling” and “an honor” before dropping this gem of a quote.
“Fox News, although they don’t follow it sometimes, they have it right when they say you have to be fair and balanced and you can’t cross the line—not once when you’re in journalism,” he said.
The truth is, Trujillo and NBC’s version of fair and balanced frequently means not crossing a line set by South Bay labor’s political machine. No station trots out more if-it-bleeds-it-leads stories with the police union’s stamp of approval. Trujillo, in particular, is a willing participant, propped up in front of a camera to wag his head about another murder before running to the Police Officers Association for a quote about police pay. The Investigative Unit has also done its part for labor, as it carried the Government Attorneys Association’s water over the summer. Trujillo participated in that farce as well.
I contacted Trujillo on Tuesday to talk with him about his Campos interview and he declined my request. I sent him these questions just in case he changed his mind:
• How long have you known Xavier Campos?
• Are you friends and/or do you two socialize outside of work?
• Do you think this relationship has ever affected your ability to report or interview Campos?
• We’re there any similar issues with covering George Shirakawa Jr., who I’m told you were close with?
• Why focus on a $100 campaign contribution to Carrasco over illegal allegations against Xavier and Nora Campos to the grand jury?
• Did you ask Xavier to explain his free political consultants in 2010?
• Do you think the commendation you received from Xavier in 2011 in front of the City Council compromised your ability to rigorously interview Campos last week?
Trujillo again declined comment via text, but then later responded, “No one gets a free pass with me, whether they are friends or not.”