An “anonymous package mailed with a Sheldon, IA, postmark” led to an exclusive report by the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble on Monday: Kim Weaver, a Democratic challenger to Representative Steve King in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district, “operated an array of psychic services websites” and “charged customers as much as $3.99 per minute for readings online and over the phone.”
In an interview, Weaver, 52, did not deny dabbling in psychic services, but described her activities as “life coaching” and said they never amounted to more than a “hobby.”
“I didn’t really actually do anything,” Weaver said. “It was all for entertainment purposes. Did I make a living from it? No, definitely not.”
On many social media threads yesterday, I saw Iowa Democrats complain about the Register hyping a “hit piece” planted by Republicans.
But even clickbait hit pieces have news value sometimes.
First things first: I think highly of Weaver and am well aware that psychic readings have not been her life’s work. She has looked out for vulnerable Iowans for decades.
I started my career at Village Northwest, which is a wonderful organization that strives to provide purpose, privacy, and dignity to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. After that I spent 10 years as a DHS Medicaid case manager, helping to ensure that individuals with serious mental health concerns received appropriate care and that young children with disabilities were able to remain in their family home. I currently work for the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman. I cover fifteen counties and 124 care providers in Northwest Iowa. Every day I work to protect the health, safety, and rights of individuals residing in long-term care facilities.
Like many single parents, Weaver sought to earn additional income. Some Democrats claimed the Register tried to “smear” her for having a second job. One Facebook commenter was furious with me for defending what he called “yellow journalism” designed “to marginalize [Weaver] as a working class person.”
I don’t consider offering psychic services to be on the same plane as most other side jobs, and Weaver doesn’t seem to either, since she has never discussed this work in public, to my knowledge. It’s hardly taboo for candidates to talk about businesses they have run or career experiences outside their primary field.
Weaver told Noble, “For me, it was more about just letting them talk to somebody who was able to listen.”
That’s not how The Spirit Weaver promoted its services. Potential customers were promised readers “with many years of experience” and a “proven track record of consistently providing accurate psychic readings” would “give you an honest and truthful” one.
You have to scroll to the bottom of the page to find this disclaimer in small print: “All Psychic Readings, psychic phone readings, and consultations by our Psychic Readers are considered for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered to be legal or medical advice.”
A similar disclaimer appeared at the bottom of the Spirit Weaver Psychic Group Home Page. But higher up, a welcome message stated, “Please know that all readers in this group have been hand selected and chosen because of their integrity and accuracy.”
Legalese in small font doesn’t change the reality of what occurs in most transactions with a psychic.
A worried woman seeking information about her missing husband wasn’t calling Weaver for entertainment. Neither was the mother who expressed relief when Weaver said she saw a teenage daughter separating from her much-older boyfriend.
Critics of yesterday’s scoop raised several reasonable objections:
· The reporter was manipulated. I consider it highly likely Republican operatives mailed the anonymous package. Then again, “Deep Throat” didn’t have pure motives either. Any journalist who received a tip like this about a Congressional candidate would be a fool not to check it out.
· The reporter played up a minor embarrassment as some huge scandal. No one is alleging that Weaver did anything illegal, yet this article is above the fold on the front page today. Arguably a more weighty topic would be a better use of Noble’s energy and the Register’s ever-shrinking news hole–especially this week, when Republicans are fast-tracking some important legislation.
· The timing is suspicious. Weaver’s past side work should have come out during last year’s campaign. For whatever reason, it didn’t. Why did someone set Noble on this investigative track recently? I saw many Iowa Democrats speculate that Republicans must be worried Weaver will mount a serious challenge to King.
I doubt whoever mailed the package was focused on the 2018 election in Iowa’s fourth district. If so, the operative would have released the bombshell after next year’s primary, in which Weaver is likely to face Iowa State University Professor Dirk Deam.
My hunch: someone wanted to keep the Register’s chief political reporter busy in early April researching a story that would make a Democrat look bad, and not writing about the devastation Republicans are inflicting on the state. As appropriations bills revealed only last week fly through the House and Senate, including spending cuts that will affect thousands of people, “the Newspaper Iowa Depends Upon” is driving traffic to a piece about an underdog Democratic candidate‘s onetime alter ego, Kimberanne.
Putting myself in Noble’s shoes, I can see why he would not want to sit on this information and risk losing the scoop to some other reporter.
On the other hand, the big news in Iowa right now is not what Kim Weaver used to do on nights and weekends. While William Petroski and Brianne Pfannenstiel cover daily happenings at the state Capitol, Noble could be writing analytical pieces during the busy final weeks of this legislative session.
This year’s Republican majorities have reshaped the Iowa political landscape more than any cohort since 1965, when Democratic lawmakers created the community college system, wrote the Iowa Civil Rights Act, abolished the death penalty, consolidated school districts, approved a groundbreaking child abuse law, passed the first gasoline tax, imposed a mandatory retirement age for judges, and did lots of other things Todd Dorman described here.
It’s fair to question whether the Register needed to devote so much space this week to old radio programs and defunct websites.
As for the core of Noble’s piece, I’m convinced the story is newsworthy. Psychics can take money from gullible people who believe they are getting an “accurate,” “honest,” and “truthful” glimpse into their future.
Many Iowa Democrats aren’t bothered. From their perspective, whatever Weaver did is nothing compared to King’s unashamed bigotry, display of a Confederate flag, and tireless efforts to roll back health care reform, reproductive rights and marriage equality. In one Facebook user’s words, which seem destined to become a catch phrase: “I’d rather have a psychic than a psycho.”
A written statement from Weaver’s political director Todd Prieb echoed that sentiment: “Frankly, the idea that people would care about something Kim did 10 years ago on an entertainment website more than Steve King’s horrendous voting record is insulting to the voters of this district.”
Whether you consider internet psychics to be harmless entertainers or unethical charlatans, voters in IA-04 deserve to know about Weaver’s past work. They are all adults and can decide how much importance to attach to the information before next year’s primary and general elections.
UPDATE: Multiple sources confirm that at least one other Iowa media outlet (which was not the Sioux City Journal) received the same package of information about Weaver. So I should not have assumed that the source material for Noble’s exclusive was exclusively sent to the Des Moines Register.
Also, several readers disagree with my assumption that the leak came from a Republican. They posit that a Democrat might have sent the packages, looking to drive Weaver from the IA-04 race after she raised lots of money and received plentiful positive media exposure in mid-March.
If some disgruntled Democrat did try to push out this story, the person made a big mistake by not waiting until after the legislative session. Any political news that diverts attention from the ongoing atrocities at the statehouse is not helpful to Democrats in any way, shape, or form.