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  • Writer's pictureMike Matson

The Front Page Test

This column was published February 18, 2023 in the Manhattan Mercury.


As a tool to measure one’s conscience, the front page test has always been effective.

It is a simple test. If one has business to conduct in the public square, and something about one’s agenda gives pause, one asks one’s self, “How would this look on the front page?”

Grounded in character, the test provides ethical and moral guardrails. The underlying assumption is the test informs the action that gives pause and that those taking it care about public perception and the inevitable opinion derived therefrom.

If flunking the front page test results in squirming, there’s your answer.

From the middle of the country, it appears George Santos is not squirming. The New York Republican who has lied to voters in his U.S. House district about nearly everything, appears not to have even considered the front page test.

Santos’ sins include mis-representing his faith, claiming his mother died on 9/11 and that some of his employees were killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. After these indiscretions came to light, we have witnessed considerable gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands, but precious little desire in the U.S. House for action grounded in accountability.

Could it happen in Kansas? It already has.

Steve Watkins was elected to the U.S. House from the 2nd District in 2018. During what turned out to be his lone two-year term, Watkins battled a host of controversies, including business résumé inflation, skipping important votes and voting fraud. Like a less imaginative Santos, it emerged that Watkins had fabricated some of his bio, including a story about how he had provided heroic aid to climbers during an earthquake on Mount Everest.

There was speculation Watkins would resign before the end of his term, which he denied. After reading the front page, Kansas voters showed Watkins the door the first chance they got – in the 2020 GOP primary election.

Reading the front page these days leaves me with the impression we have moved into an era of post-shame politics. Santos seems unfazed by the embarrassment and condemnation. He doesn’t appear to be squirming while all the rest of us are forming opinions about him.

Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden put it best, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” See: Gary Hart, March 1987.

As readers of the front page, we are not powerless. We can determine whether the behavior of elected officials is worthy of our vote. See: Steve Watkins, August 2020.

The front-page test is designed to allow those taking it to give deep thought about how their actions will be perceived by those who unfold the paper, pour a cup of coffee and spend quality time getting plugged into their community – the very raison d'être of journalism.

For a course of action to comfortably pass the front page test, it needs to survive the community’s scrutiny. There was a time when giving some thought to how the average front page reader would perceive your actions was the ballgame. This was based on the assumption that those taking it had a conscience and could walk by mirrors with impunity.

I’ve no clue how well George Santos sleeps at night, but the conclusion I draw is that it is soundly. It speaks volumes about Santos and about his seeming imperviousness to squirming.

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