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Hello, Mountain Home, it’s been a while since we’ve last done an update on the Mountain Home Observer.
This week marks the 82nd anniversary of National Newspaper Week by the United States. It will be the Observer’s first time participating in the celebration of newspapers and with only a few months left until we celebrate our one year anniversary, we could not be more excited.
When Alison and I first started the Observer, we had our fair share of doubters. It’s not often that someone comes along and tries to create a new publication from the ground up.
Instead, the tradition has usually seen small town newspapers get bounced back and forth between different corporate entities before ultimately dying, with no replacement in sight. We hope to break that tradition.
And while we still have some doubters today, I can proudly say that narrative is changing.
Since we first opened our digital doors, we’ve strived to bring balanced, truthful, and impactful news to the Mountain Home community, and I can happily say that we’ve done that. The Mountain Home Observer has broken some of the biggest stories in Mountain Home since its inception and we don’t plan to stop.
We broke the news of Baxter County being sued by Tabitha King, a former jailer at the Baxter County Jail, after she was allegedly terminated from her position after reporting that her superior had not only sexually assaulted her but had sexually harassed her for quiet some time.
That lawsuit is expected to go to court next year.
We also broke the news that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had opened an investigation in Mountain Home’s very own XL-7 TV.
After a several-month-long investigation by the FCC into Reynolds Media Group, owners of XL7-TV, the FCC ordered a $60,000 civil penalty after the media company was found to have misled viewers not only through its daily advertising practices but through an election advertising scheme.
During the Observer’s own investigation, we spoke to Dale Hoffman, the former TV host of “Down on the Corner,” who revealed several key details surrounding the FCC investigation and the advertising scheme that had landed XL7-TV in hot water.
During the conversation, Hoffman alleged that Bob Recktenwald, an employee with the Jim Brown Company who was also appearing on various XL7-TV programs, and Scooter Callies, a host with XL7-TV, approached him about creating a temporary “Candidate Forum” on Hoffman’s “Down on the Corner” program around April 14.
At the time, Hoffman said Recktenwald and Callies wanted to sell ads and saw the candidate forum as a way to raise money for the small TV station.
Several candidates had been scheduled to appear around this time, including Henry Campfield, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery, and upcoming Baxter County Judge-elect Kevin Litty.
Campaign finance reports filed with the Baxter County Clerk’s Office confirm that these candidates and several others paid $1,500 to XL7-TV around this time.
Text messages between Brian Plumlee, candidate for Baxter County Judge, and Recktenwald reveal that the candidate had been approached about participating in the station’s $1,500 election advertising package. Plumlee ultimately did not pay the $1,500 asked by Recktenwald and was subsequently not allowed on the air. His non-appearance was later used against him during a KTLO candidate forum.
Those actions ultimately led to an FCC investigation, which resulted in Reynolds Media Group admitting that its TV hosts had broken FCC guidelines regarding political candidates for equal coverage. The FCC went even further and discovered that XL7-TV was taking money from its guests to appear on television, while attempting to pass off the appearance as editorial content.
A third story we broke, involved this year’s primary elections, in which we discovered that members of the Baxter County Election Commission had secretly opened a ballot alongside Baxter County Republican Committee Chairman Rick Peglar.
The ballot that was opened determined the results of the three-way race for JP District 10 between Shannon Walker, Vincent Anderson, and Sheila Wingard. The result was given to Walker, with the commission leaving the other two candidates in the dark about the outcome of the race.
Walker would go on to face Wingard in a run-off election to secure her place on the court.
Reporting on these stories has not come without a cost. Since we began bringing watchdog journalism to the Mountain Home area, we’ve received threats and have had rumors started about us.
We’ve also been shunned and blacklisted by several community leaders, businessmen and organizations in Baxter County.
We’ve been called “hacks,” a “sensationalist newspaper,” and “Facebook news.”
And while others believe that it’s better to cover up or ignore corruption in Mountain Home and Baxter County to stay in business or keep the peace, we still believe that light is the best disinfectant. Which is why the Mountain Home Observer will continue to report the truth, no matter the consequences.
We thank all of our subscribers from the bottom of our hearts. Without you, our ability to break major news stories would not be possible.
Here’s to National Newspaper Week, and the Observer’s first birthday.