Commentary: Unwarranted Attack on a Councilmember Combined with Inconsistent Editorial Standards

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Remember two weeks ago we called out the Enterprise’s editor for rushing in to defend columnist Bob Dunning?  The editor’s note becomes even more noteworthy now, as it was not used on a recent letter that falsely attacked Councilmember Will Arnold.

Davis resident Glen Holstein argues that “we owe our cops a debt of gratitude,” and, while that is perhaps true, he makes his case by spinning what is largely a false narrative.

In an over-the-top hyperbolic he describes being “confronted by hundreds of out-of-town thugs terrorizing residential neighborhoods just north of campus.”  He  writes, “If it hadn’t been for a thin blue line of very brave Davis police officers, the terror would have been much worse. Now, incredibly, those officers are under attack and the thug behavior is justified.”

While we are skeptical of this account, the more egregious comment would follow: “Davis City Councilman Will Arnold’s attacks on our police and defense of thugs exemplify why the Democratic Party is suddenly having such a hard time winning elections.”

He concludes, “Unfortunately, a lot more than just thug victims are collateral damage as we also say goodbye to so many other things we cherish, from affordable health care to the environment.”

I wish we had an addendum to Godwin’s Law, because it seems the more frequent internet phenomena is drawing partisan politics into situations where they don’t belong.

But focus here on the Will Arnold statement.  People are entitled to a wide berth of a variety of opinions, but there is no way to infer from Will Arnold’s statement last week that he was either attacking the police or defending “thugs.”

Instead, Mr. Arnold stated, “I have thus far remained silent regarding the Picnic Day incident in hopes of allowing an independent, unprejudiced investigation to take place.”

If anything, Mr. Arnold took great pains to avoid criticizing the police or commenting on the incident itself.  Instead he focused completely on the investigator and the investigator’s indefensible statement.

He wrote, “But the recent on-air statements of former Sheriff McGinness are beyond the pale, reveal an ignorant and insensitive view toward African-Americans, and threaten the very independence and lack of prejudice we must preserve.”

Mr. Arnold concluded, “Therefore, I am calling for the immediate replacement of Sheriff McGinness to lead this investigation.”

Mr. Arnold was far from attacking the police, he was simply criticizing the choice of investigator, and rightly so.  The council has so far attempted to avoid any judgment on the incident, pending the investigation.  And Mr. Arnold only commented regarding the choice of investigator – and did not comment on the action itself.

Mr. Holstein, therefore, has falsely attacked Will Arnold in a fairly pointed and indefensible manner, and we believe that Mr. Holstein owes the councilmember a public apology.

But my comments here go beyond Mr. Holstein’s distasteful and untrue remarks, and go to the Enterprise’s editorial standard.  In this case, they have posted a clear personal attack that is also clearly false.  They have done so without a correction or clarification.

Compare that lack of reaction by the Enterprise editorial staff to how they responded to an opinion-based criticism of long-time columnist Bob Dunning.

A few weeks ago, a letter writer wrote, “Bob Dunning fails to cite anything from the other half of the story in the same Davis Enterprise article that disputes the Police Department’s accounts, except to say that ‘one alleged witness claims the police were at fault for not properly identifying themselves.’ Further, he mischaracterizes and tries to discredit and belittle the witness.”

However, at the bottom of that letter was an editor’s note undoubtedly written by Debbie Davis, the paper’s Editor and Assistant Publisher, who wrote, “Yes, Ms. Jones, commentary is biased. Commentary is the writer’s opinion. Bob Dunning’s job is to share his well-informed opinion on local issues, as he did in this case.”

We were critical of the editor’s note at the time because, while it is true that commentary has a bias, and newspapers intentionally and rightly attempt to separate their editorial sections from their news reporting – which is supposed to be both factual and impartial, the best commentary is fact-based and insightful.

But Debbie Davis chose to respond to that with a rather snarky editor’s note – but not to respond at all to the false and misleading attack on the councilmember.

At the time, several people indicated that they had seen an “editor’s note” several times in the Enterprise.  Others claim they hadn’t seen it used to defend a columnist from criticism, but rather to correct factually incorrect statements.

Well, here’s the counter case – the clearly factually incorrect statement with no editor’s note correcting it.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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23 thoughts on “Commentary: Unwarranted Attack on a Councilmember Combined with Inconsistent Editorial Standards”

  1. PhilColeman

    “—David M. Greenwald reporting”

    As much as the profession of journalism would like to believe its practitioners can make the distinction between fact and opinion, it simply can’t be done. Every human creature has strong biases, formed from just a portion of all possible life experiences. Only the fools among us will claim to be unbiased.

    Journalism struggles with this dilemma, wanting to appear credible to their readership and viewers. They vainly compartmentalize their writings, saying a fact-based balanced publishing is a “report” or “story.” Writers who make no attempt at objectivity or balance share their views in the form of a blog, column or editorial. Biased publishers hire biased editors and writers, and retain them only if they reflect the publisher’s bias, supplemented by economic or political pressure around them.

    Here we have two opposing views, both trying to claim the high-ground of journalistic integrity by saying they have the “right” view, and the other view is cursed with the tag of being biased. David closes this very biased assault on the Enterprise by saying he’s “reporting” not opining. The Enterprise previously attacked this blog, noting that it’s just opinion, while their primary mission is to report facts.

    And we readers who sit here and witness this silly ego-driven verbal sword-fight–and wonder if this is supposed to make us believe any form of truth is being served.

        1. David Greenwald

          It’s the point I’m making.  I don’t care if you agree or not.  The newspaper printed a factually incorrect attack on an elected official and no one has bothered to correct it. A few weeks ago you were defending that that the newspaper frequently used editors notes, and yet they chose to do it to defend Dunning’s and not to correct a factually incorrect attack on a councilmember.

        2. Keith O

          When reading the letters to the editor section in the Enterprise I often see false accusations against elected officials.  Being this is a liberal leaning city most of the false accusations are levied against conservative politicians and most recently Trump.  Have you ever complained about those and demanded a correction or retraction?

        3. David Greenwald

          This one was on a local issue that we have been following and it was extremely black and white – usually attacks fall more into shades of gray.  If you have a comparable situation on a local issue we’ve covered, I’ll be interested in seeing it.

      1. Jim Hoch

        “Do you believe that attack on Will Arnold was factual?”

        Completely a matter of opinion. Someone says “All lives Matter” and one person think that the statement is obvious and unassailable while someone else hears an attack on a particular ethnic group.

        When assessing statements by politicians there will be always be a great deal of interpretation.

         

         

        1. Jim Hoch

          My interpretation of his comments:

          “The situation calls for a clear show of support from the city for the police. Anything less than full support is an attack on the police.”

           

          I don’t agree with that view but I certainly understand it. I have much more concern about the stated incident than I do with the opinion.

           

  2. Jim Hoch

    I have no problem with the attack on Will Arnold as I believe that is a matter of opinion and he is a public figure with the ability to respond. I did post a comment to The Enterprise evincing skepticism of the purported terrorist attack.

    The Enterprise seems to have no qualms about people posting blatant lies in the Forum, everything from this terrorist attack mentioned above to the school board reinstating private testing in AIM. Many papers will add an editors note after such letters. The Enterprise lets the crazies like Glen and the private testing AIM woman, Karen something, run wild with no adult supervision.

      1. Jim Hoch

        essentially though there would be exceptions.  For  example many of the statements made by Republicans about healthcare I knew were lies.

  3. Tia Will

    I agree with Phil’s observation that all humans are biased. However, I would encourage anyone who is interested enough, to go back and follow the time line on this controversy. Even Keith and I who frequently see the world very differently were in agreement that David’s initial reports on this incident, one largely relaying the police point of view, and a follow up largely from observers point of view were even handed. It was not until Dunning’s obviously and admittedly biased column followed by the editor’s note implying that it was “well informed” that this issue started to heat up.

    David and I do disagree on one point. I do not believe that an apology is owed Mr. Arnold. I believe that all of us have the right to express our opinions, including distasteful and erroneous opinions about public officials. Mr. Holstein tips his hand about the hyperbolic nature of his comments when he describes the detainees as “hundreds of out-of-town thugs terrorizing residential neighborhoods just north of campus.”. A view of the videotape clearly demonstrates that no one appeared “terrorized” with uninvolved individuals in the vicinity moving away in an expeditious but hardly panicked manner. After that display of inaccurate wording, who is going to take his subsequent comments seriously ? I believe that Mr. Holstein discredited his own position and nothing more is needed. 

    1. Keith O

      I believe that Mr. Holstein discredited his own position and nothing more is needed. 

      Once he made it about politics I came to the same conclusion.

       

      It was not until Dunning’s obviously and admittedly biased column followed by the editor’s note implying that it was “well informed” that this issue started to heat up.

      Here’s the actual quote:

      “Yes, Ms. Jones, commentary is biased. Commentary is the writer’s opinion. Bob Dunning’s job is to share his well-informed opinion on local issues, as he did in this case.”

      Ms. Davis stated that Bob’s job is to share his well-informed opinion and that in this case he did share his well-informed opinion.  

       

  4. Jim Hoch

    “well-informed” does not mean “accurately informed”. When I read the comment I interpolated it as he had an off the record discussion discussion with the police and had possibly seen the video.

    1. Tia Will

      Jim

      I appreciate that this was your interpretation. The problem I have with the supportive statement is that we are being encouraged to accept his article as “well informed” without being provided with any evidence to support that claim. I frequently feel, without demonstrable evidence, that Dunning is at best partially informed in accordance with his preconceived notions, and at worst just blowing smoke. I feel free to voice my opinion, but make sure everyone knows it is my opinion. And I am not speaking with the presumed authority of his boss.

        1. Tia Will

          What she actually said was that it was his “well informed” opinion. How did she know ?  She said nothing about his information gathering. She chose to give the weight of her unsupported “opinion” in support of his. This may have given some the impression that she knew that he had taken the time to become “well informed” through actual investigation.

      1. Jim Hoch

        Tia,

         

        This is more common than not. Many articles are derived from “knowledgeable sources” and provide no attribution beyond that. Anyway it hardly matters as Dunning is a columnist.

        1. David Greenwald

          That’s a falsehood.

          The Elements of Journalism: “The editorial pages of the newspaper, the opinion columnist, the talk show, and the point-of-view magazine essay have every right to be opinionated. That’s their mission. But if their authors want to call themselves journalists, then it follows that they should not misrepresent the facts – that they should hold to the same standards of truthfulness or allegiance to public interest as any other part of the profession.

        2. Jim Hoch

          Falsehood? “if their authors want to call themselves journalists” Do you have some evidence that Bob Dunning refers to himself as a “journalist”? 

          Davis Wiki “Bob Dunning is a local media figure, both in print and on the radio”

          http://blog.michaelzhang.com/archives/05/05/webpages/enterprisestaff.htm

          Bob Dunning ColumnistBob Dunning has worked at The Davis Enterprise in parts of five decades. Hired as a part-time sports stringer in late 1969, Dunning became sports editor full-time in January 1970. After several years as sports editor and a twice-a-week sports columnist, Dunning began his daily Page 2 column in 1976. Dunning writes about the world around him in his beloved City of All Things Right and Relevant. “Davis is a target-rich environment,” he explains. ”

          I have yet to find a reference to BD as a “journalist”

           

  5. John Hobbs

    “As much as the profession of journalism would like to believe its practitioners can make the distinction between fact and opinion, it simply can’t be done.”

    Of course it can, Walter Cronkite, Ed Murrow, Douglas Edwards, Eric Severeid all did it without interjecting their personal bias. It was of course perverted largely by an Aussie oligarch and his poisonous hatred of the truth.

    “…and go to the Enterprise’s editorial standard.  In this case, they have posted a clear personal attack that is also clearly false.
    …the clearly factually incorrect statement with no editor’s note correcting it.”
    “Do you believe that attack on Will Arnold was factual?”
    One might well assume that it is the paper’s intent, for whatever reason, to insult Mr. Arnold by allowing the letter’s publication, in the first place. As far as consistency of editorial standards, I find Dunning consistently shallow and seldom original.

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