Mayor created fake identity to write positive stories about town for area newspapers

Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

The mayor of a Salt Lake City, Utah, suburb has confessed to creating a fake name to write stories for area newspapers in order to disseminate "good news" about his town.

West Valley Mayor Mike Winder admitted he used the name Richard Burwash to contribute more than a dozen stories over a two-year span. Winder got his falsely bylined pieces published by the Deseret News, Oquirrh Times and on KSL.com. KSL-5 News also reported that a photo taken by Winder--but credited to R. Burwash--appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune in October 2010.

Winder quoted himself in his stories and used anonymous city employees as sources, Deseret News said.

Winder created a fake email account for Richard Burwash to communicate with his editors and pretended to be Burwash in phone conversations with them. He even created a faux Facebook profile for his pen-name, taking a photo from a Google image search.

The mayor also admitted that one of the stories published was written by his sister.

"There will be people who will be disappointed in me because of this," Winder told KSL-5. "But there will also be people who respect me for putting my neck on the line to get good coverage for our city."

He added: "I care deeply about having news stories about my community beyond what the crime desk churns out, since there is a negative reputation we are working hard to turn around." West Valley is Utah's second largest city, behind Salt Lake.

Winder said stopped writing under the assumed name when he learned it was against Deseret policy, and alerted his editors last week.

"While we appreciate that Mayor Winder would, of his own accord, quit writing under the assumed name and then detail the error to us, we remain highly concerned that someone would purposely misrepresent himself," Deseret CEO Clark Gilbert said in a statement. "The Deseret News believes in giving voice to the community, but that must be done in the context of transparency and honesty. We deeply regret that Mayor Winder would do this."

Both editors at Deseret and Oquirrh said the published articles "were factually correct--aside from their byline."

According to his Twitter profile, Winder, in addition to serving as West Valley's mayor, serves as the "director of public affairs for Summit Group Communications and a strategic adviser for Winder Farms." A former staffer for Jon Huntsman's campaign for governor, he won election to his present office in 2009. And according to his bio on the West Valley website, Winder is "the author of seven published books on Utah history and the American presidency, including Presidents and Prophets, a regional bestseller."

In March, Winder launched a seven-point transparency initiative for West Valley.

"In our free society, the people should have information relating to how they are governed," Winder said, "and they should have a government that is open, accessible, transparent and honest."

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