Setting the Record Straight – Free Speech and Campaigns

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SorryGiven the nature of this site and organization, it is actually somewhat remarkable that we do not make more errors, more often.  Unfortunately, on Sunday, a couple were made that should not have been.

I hate making excuses, but there were some extenuating circumstances here that led to some miscommunications – I have been under the weather with some vicious form of the flu since Saturday, plus some other complications.  That being said, these mistakes should not have been made, they are my fault, and I will do my best not to allow them to happen again.

It was written: “It has gotten to the point where people are starting to look into whether election laws are actually being violated by dint of fact that a columnist is actively campaigning against the water project.  Rush Limbaugh seems to prove that extreme bias is allowed by the First Amendment, so Bob probably is Davis’ 2012-2013 version of Rush.”

The second sentence should never have been printed.  There was some miscommunication, but the bottom line is the article had my name as the author and therefore I am responsible for all content.  The Rush Limbaugh remark should not have been printed.

The first sentence has some truth in it.  After all, as we correctly reported in the month of February, Mr. Dunning had produced 11 columns devoted in full or in part to the issue of water – all of them negative.

Mr. Dunning is entitled to his opinion and we would be loath to see a newspaper censor opinion.

The real problem that needed to be illuminated in this article was not Mr. Dunning’s writing itself, but the lack of balance in the newspaper.  Mr. Dunning is essentially allowed unfettered influence and access here, and there is no one given the opportunity to counter any of his information – particularly that information that is either false or misleading.

Long ago, there was a counter-voice in the newspaper belonging to Gerald Heffernon.  However, a weekly voice countering a five per week campaign is not exactly even footing.

But then again, and this is before my time in observance, I have been told that the exchanges between Bob Dunning and Gerald Heffernon became so bitter that Debbie Davis actually forbade them from writing about each other.

In my view then, the best solution is not censorship, but engagement.  That did not properly come across in the column on Sunday and that is my fault and my responsibility.

In a newspaper setting, however, to allow one voice with a specific point of view to dominate the conversation is problematic to speech and discourse – especially in cases where one side fears retribution.

Whenever I ask someone why they have not responded to Mr. Dunning, I always get some version of Mark Twain’s admonishment not to get into a dispute with someone who buys ink by the barrel.  That said, that’s probably a 19th century warning that may be overdue to be updated.

Running from engagement and toward the perception of censorship was not my only mistake.

In addition, I wrote, “The truth is that this has always been personal for Bob Dunning.  He has led the opposition against the water project and CBFR because he sees himself, in his rather unusual situation, as being heavily disadvantaged by the project in a very personal way.”

While that had certainly seemed to be the case in some of his earlier articles, where he mentioned the impact on larger families, it is not necessarily true now or then.

As Matt Williams would explain after repeated discussions with Mr. Dunning, he believed that Mr. Dunning was motivated not by a personal stake in the process, but by the overall unfairness, as he sees it, of the system.

I think that is accurate and I think it was a mistake to impugn motivations in a political discussion.  My better response was in Wednesday’s column where I lay out, I think pretty clearly, the basis for my belief that CBFR is the more fair rate system whether you support the surface water project or not.

That is the way to approach it.  Personal motivations, frankly, should not matter anyway.  After all, if your argument wins the day, who cares why you made it?  Right?

I am finally starting to feel better and I pledge to do better in the future, trying to make my points.

—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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16 thoughts on “Setting the Record Straight – Free Speech and Campaigns”

  1. rusty49

    David:
    “In a newspaper setting however, to allow one voice with a specific point of view to dominate the conservative is problematic however to speech and discourse”

    So funny, if Bob was dominating the liberal I’m sure we wouldn’t hear a peep out of you. I once dropped the paper because I was tired of all of the liberal slanted articles and I let the Enterprise know why I was ending my subscription. So for someone to complain about the paper being unfair with too much of a conservative slant is just ludicrous to me. The paper slants way to the left and in fact many of Dunning’s views also slant left.

  2. Mr Obvious

    This on the same day David goes after Parish with both having weak excuses. I know running a blog is different than running for judge. I can’t be the only one who sees the similarities.

  3. J.R.

    Such self-examination reflects well on you. But you should also renounce the first sentence.

    [quote]It has gotten to the point where people are starting to look into whether election laws are actually being violated by dint of fact that a columnist is actively campaigning against the water project.[/quote]

    We should never qualify free speech. Election laws are primarily a tool by which political incumbents seek to limit their opponents.

    As a very opinionated writer using a non-profit vehicle, you are far more vulnerable to these laws than is Dunning. They are an abomination.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    “But you should also renounce the first sentence. “

    I pretty much did. It’s an accurate statement on its face…

    [quote]The first sentence has some truth in it. After all, as we correctly reported in the month of February, Mr. Dunning had produced 11 columns devoted in full or in part to the issue of water – all of them negative.

    Mr. Dunning is entitled to his opinion and we would be loath to see a newspaper censor opinion.

    The real problem that needed to be illuminated in this article was not Mr. Dunning’s writing itself, but the lack of balance in the newspaper. Mr. Dunning is essentially allowed unfettered influence and access here, and there is no one given the opportunity to counter any of his information – particularly that information that is either false or misleading.[/quote]

  5. Robb Davis

    David – Thanks for your vulnerability on this issue. I appreciate it and feel that it contributes to the kind of honest and humble discourse we need to cultivate in Davis (and beyond). I will push a bit as JR has done by agreeing that we should never qualify free speech. Period. I am still not clear what exactly you are saying in the part you quoted in your 9:04 response.

    Here is the way I would say it: [i]The Davis Enterprise[/i] is, of course, free to print anything it wants. However, if free and unfettered speech is our right (and it is) then an attendant duty or responsibility should be to speak truth and avoid speech that asserts the unknowable (for example–calling into question the unknowable motives of others). Further, it would seem to be an important practice for a local newspaper to create an environment in which free and open dialogue and disagreements can be aired on subjects of importance to the community. By overwhelmingly favoring one side on this issue [i]The Enterprise[/i] has failed in this regard. And, those who have engaged in innuendo and casting aspersions without evidence, while exercising their rights have failed to fulfill their duty to speak truthfully.”

  6. JustSaying

    “It’s an accurate statement on its face…”

    Is it really? Maybe J.R.’s point is well-taken.

    How many people “are starting to look into whether election laws are actually being violated”? Who is looking into this?

    The only place I’ve read that Dunning’s writing should be checked for election law violations was one recent post in the Vanguard (that I’m not sure even was made seriously). And, of course, today’s first sentence.

  7. JustSaying

    It’s a shame to read this nitpicking about your lede in a time of such impressive self-flagellation. Your support for free speech makes a good point. I wonder whether your survey result (“ink by the barrel”) doesn’t suggest that the “yes” vote strength is greater than that reflected in the local paper’s letters column?

  8. Phil Coleman

    David: Both you and Bob have the same entitlement. Our great country allows both of you can express your opinion. Neither blogger nor columnist need to give balance to the opposing viewpoint. As we have often noted before, there is a distinct difference between a reporter and anybody else. A “report” is supposed to give at least some appearance of being balanced.

    Bob Dunning indisputably has a large impact on forming public opinion in Davis. Bob is a longtime friend, but I’ll still have to say that he has argued the water issue to excess. His arguments have become a rant. Frankly, I’ve stopped reading anything he says about water.

    If I’m permitted to give you advice on Bob’s posture on this issue, I’d urge that you ignore him. He’s made his points, you have made yours, multiple times. Repetition does not strengthen an argument, it usually weakens it.

    For what it’s worth, the Rush Limbaugh analogy seemed quite tame to me in today’s contentious public discourse. At the same time, I didn’t seem to think the comparison had much credence.

  9. SODA

    To me, Bob Dunning has not written numerous No on I columns. Rather, as is his wont, he has chosen specific issues within the broader context and has argued them or pointed out their flaws as he sees them. You can agree or not or you can agree with some and not all….

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