You’re a reporter. You’ve been approached by a source who confides in you his concerns about attacks on his nascent political campaign he sees as anti-Semitic. Then suddenly, that source dies.
Now what do you do with that information?
St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page editor Tony Messenger wrote in a column Thursday that he decided to share his off-the-record conversations with Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, who authorities said appeared to have committed suicide earlier in the day.
Messenger revealed in the column that Schweich had left him a voicemail minutes before his death.
“Had I not ignored his phone call to me at 9:41 Thursday morning — I was doing a thing at my kids’ school district — I might have been the last person to talk to the man who wanted to be governor,” Messenger wrote.
“It made for a chilling day in which I decided to do something I’ve never done before as a reporter: reveal the contents of off-the-record conversations with a source,” he added. “That source is now dead. I believe it’s what he would have wanted.”
It’s unclear exactly which off-the-record conversations Messenger was referring to.
What is clear from the Post-Dispatch’s own reporting is that Schweich went to Messenger on Tuesday to allege that the state GOP chairman, Tony Hancock, had been off-handedly telling people that Schweich was Jewish. While Schweich told Messenger his grandfather was Jewish, the auditor himself was an Episcopalian.
Messenger also wrote in his column that Schweich’s political consultants advised him against making his allegations against Hancock public.
Schweich called him Thursday morning to arrange an interview with a Post-Dispatch reporter so that he could do just that; Messenger wrote that he ignored the call and let it go to voicemail.
“In the end, he called me, perhaps because he didn’t have anybody else,” Messenger wrote. “Nobody in his party wanted him to hold a news conference suggesting that there were anti-Semites in the Republican Party. ‘I won’t back down,’ he told me. I believed him.”
Messenger also invoked Missouri’s history of anti-Semitism in the column.
“Missouri is the state that gave us Frazier Glenn Miller, the raging racist who last year killed three people at a Jewish community center in Kansas City,” he wrote. “It’s the state in which on the day before Schweich died, the Anti-Defamation League reported on a rise of white supremacist prison gangs in the state.”
“Division over race and creed is real in Missouri Republican politics, particularly in some rural areas,” he wrote. “Schweich knew it. It’s why all week long his anger burned.”