Journalism Fail: Michigan Voters Elect Felon 

Wantwaz Davis, who served 19 years in prison on a murder charge, beat a Flint, Mich., incumbent city councilman by 71 votes, after the media missed the story.

Wantwaz Davis
Wantwaz Davis RTDNF

Journalism Fail

Media Missed It: Winning Candidate Served Time for Murder

We’ve been hearing the warnings for years now,” Vincent Duffy, chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Foundation, wrote Thursday. “At journalism conferences, in the trades, and amongst ourselves we’ve heard some variation of this: ‘If newsrooms keep cutting reporters, while demanding higher story counts, and measuring story success by web-hits, important news is going to start falling through the cracks.’ Admittedly when we say it, it sounds more like, ‘With fewer people and more to produce, when are we supposed to cover the news?’

“The election results last week in Flint, Michigan provide a perfect example of what can happen when ‘the media’ [don’t] do their job well. On election day, voters in Flint’s fifth ward elected Wantwaz Davis to be their representative on city council. Davis beat the incumbent by 71 votes.

“The day after the election, the Flint Journal reported, for the first time, that Davis was a ‘convicted killer’ who served 19 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in 1991.

“Yes, you read that correctly, a convicted murderer was on the ballot for city council, and the local newspaper/website, and the local ABC and FOX affiliates, never reported his past until the day after Davis won. (Full disclosure — as a nearly statewide radio station, Flint is also in my station’s listening area. We do not have a reporter there and have been trying unsuccessfully to raise money to create that position.)

“Newly elected Councilman Davis makes no effort to hide his criminal past. In fact, helping felons who served their time find employment was one of his campaign issues. All a reporter had to do to discover his past was Google his name and scan the items that came up on the first page. Davis also told one of my reporters that he told voters about his past when he canvassed door-to-door, and it came up during a debate sponsored by the NAACP.

“But it never came to the attention of the newspaper or its political reporter. It wasn’t even mentioned in a now comical looking story by Dominic Adams that the newspaper published under the headline: Everything you need to know about the Fifth Ward Flint City Council race. . . .”

The story is not without its racial component. A website called trunewsusa ran the headline, “Colored Flint Michigan voters elect two convicted Negro felons, two others colored folks with bankruptcies to city council.”