Why NBC Bay Area’s Reporting on Xavier Campos is a Sham

“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.”

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

5 Comments

  1. I don’t think this is fair to Mr. Trujillo.

    Mr. Trujillo asked the question that mattered, and he followed that up with an opinion by a legal expert that Campos had compromised his 5th Amendment right to self incrimination by answering the same question in a public forum.  That was great work.

    If the next election in that district turns into another labor proxy, then you have to wonder if labor is going to want to risk backing Campos.  You could imagine a situation where “information” is withheld until just before the election.  You don’t want pour a bunch of money into a candidate and have it go for naught because your candidate had some skeletons in his closet.

    If there really is something here, then it’s in Nora Campos’ interest to have this fade away as quickly as possible too.  She doesn’t benefit from a long campaign with the same questions being asked.  Over and over and over again.

  2. Just another reason to not watch the local NBC news.  There are other channels that cover all sides of a story when half the time NBC doesn’t even cover the story if it is against their mafia crew.  Think about it, how long did it take for them to get in on the Shirakawa story?  When they did they handled him with kid gloves.  AND HE PLEAD GUILTY!!!

    Both Camposes are an embarrassment to the eastside.  Maybe it is a good thing Baby Huey Campos decided to run for reelection this way the media has an absolute reason to keep his name and misdeeds in front of the public.  No more free rides for the criminal politicians and those that conspire to help them cover up their deception.

  3. The fact that Trujillo is still a cub reporter 20 years into his career says it all.  He’s not hard hitting or known for being investigative and revealing.  I can’t recall one big scoop in his entire career.

    His wife was a PR person for the ambulance company that Shady Shirakawa brought to town. That’s why Trujillo didn’t have much negative to say about Shirakawa either.  That whole twitter thing stupid. He claims valuing first amendment rights then blocks another media source?  Pot, meet kettle.

  4. Since it’s negatively referenced in both the blog and the comments section, perhaps one of you people so upset over Trujillo’s utilization of police union sources would share with the rest of us an example of those sources providing comments that were untrue? Given that, in a city in which the public has been fed false information by the police chief, the mayor, a number of council members, and the Mercury News, I’m a bit surprised to find a reporter being criticized for accessing the one local resource that seems to always tell the truth.

    Oh, and by the way, the existence of any political connection involving Karyn Sinunu-Towery should be considered a conflict of interest. Her track record shows her to be to political intrigue what George Shirakawa is to gluttony.

  5. Is “the fact that illegal activity has surrounded the councilman at all career stops” and exaggeration? Let’s see, MACLA, pension funds stolen. As Shirakawa’s aide, he dined with Big G. on stolen credit card money. At City Hall, he failed to file campaign statements. Sounds to me like a serial crime spree, all right.

    As for Mr. Trujillo, if NBC continues to employ him, they should change their slogan from “WE INVESTIGATE” to “WE COVER UP” or “WE AIR WHAT POLICE UNIONS FEED US.” Damian’s social media tantrums and unwillingness to be interviewed about his obvious conflicts of interest show he’s unworthy to be a newsman in a city of any size.

    Accepting a commendation from Campos is such a blatant violation of professional ethics that it’s hard to understand why Trujillo’s editors are turning a blind eye to this.