Joel Connelly’s column today (“Freedom of Speech Takes A Beating”) attacks the Stranger (and, specifically, me) for “strafing…the First Amendment” by writing about City Council candidate Tim Burgess’s work on behalf of religious-right hate group Concerned Women for America, which advocates against equal rights for gays and lesbians, against abortion rights, against birth control, and against public education, among other things, and for quoting an editorial he wrote about Democrats and “values voters” in the wake of the 2004 election. Just so I don’t get accused of taking Connelly out of context, here’s the relevant excerpt from his column:
The latest local strafing of the First Amendment has come from a media outlet.
After the 2004 election, Seattle businessman Tim Burgess wrote an opinion piece addressing Democrats’ problems attracting support from people of faith. It tracked themes of a speech given a few weeks earlier by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.
“Admittedly, we struggle with a lot of pressing issues,” he wrote. “We value the sacredness of marriage between a woman and a man. We recognize that not everyone agrees with us and we know the law isn’t a good mechanism to resolve these issues, but moral persuasion is.
“We abhor racism and desire justice and fairness for all, especially in our courts, but also in our personal relationships. We’re conflicted by capital punishment because all life is sacred. We value truth telling and integrity.”
Burgess is now running for the City Council, and “haunted” by his article in the words of Erica Barnett of The Stranger.
As high priests of anti-religious prejudice in Seattle, editors at the Capitol Hill newspaper summoned Burgess for a grilling last week.
It seems that Burgess, too, deviated from the party line. It isn’t that he’s anti-gay or that his firm did work for a Christian right group, but — truth be told — that he violated The Stranger’s view of Seattle as a “blue” enclave united by secularism and hostility to “values voters.”
That isn’t America. Our country is a pluralistic place: Our city needs to be, too. All points of view should put on the table, discussed and debated. Intelligent folk are sometimes “conflicted.”
It is repellent to see anybody shouted down, or shut out. When it comes to “Freedom of Speech,” and First Amendment rights, we should all be fundamentalists.
Our Founding Fathers designed the First Amendment to provide an alternative to boorish, repressive and authoritarian behavior.
Where to begin? How about with the allegation that the “high priests of religious prejudice,” the “editors” at the Stranger, “summoned Burgess in for a grilling”?
Joel didn’t call me (and never has) to verify this statement, which he presents as fact. If he had, he’d have discovered that it simply isn’t true; Burgess called me and suggested he, Dan, Josh and I get together so he could explain himself more fully and in person. We (particularly Josh and Dan, who hadn’t talked to Burgess as much as I had) wanted to hear more about the evolution of his views on gay marriage and women’s rights, as well as his explanation for working for a group directly at odds with his stated values, so we had him in. The media has a right and a duty to ask candidates to explain themselves when they take contradictory positions. Giving Burgess an opportunity to explain himself (which he did; see my report on that meeting here) is the opposite of censorship.
Moving on, Joel says—again, without talking to any of us—that, “truth be told, [Burgess] violated The Stranger’s view of Seattle as a ‘blue’ enclave united by secularism and hostility to ‘values voters.’”
Joel doesn’t need to be told that there’s no such thing as “the Stranger’s view,” any more than there’s any such thing as “the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s view.” The Stranger is not a monolith any more than the P-I; the writers and editors ere hold a diversity of views on a variety of different issues, including the value of “values voters” to the Democratic Party, which was the subject of Burgess’s editorial. The concern some of us had with the editorial is one which many Seattle voters would likely share; namely, that Burgess—running for office as a progressive, with endorsements from Democratic organizations—appeared to share the Republican point of view on gay marriage and abortion, among other issues. While it’s true that City Council members don’t vote on those issues, local elected positions are often stops on the way to higher office, making these relevant questions (and ones we’ve asked plenty of other City Council candidates.) We’ve laid out the reasons we were disturbed by Burgess’s editorial in excruciating detail here, here, and here, and none of them involve “our” view that Seattle should be hostile to “values voters.” All, in fact, include extensive quotes from Burgess—making Connelly’s assertion that we somehow “shut him out” all the more absurd. (And, for the record, Burgess and his campaign consultant have both told me repeatedly that they believe my coverage has been “fair”—hardly the sort of thing someone who’s being “censored” would say.)
Ironically, Connelly has also trashed us for failing to talk to a candidate about his religious views; in a column he wrote in July, Connelly called Josh a “bigot” for failing to talk to Dave Reichert before writing a column about Reichert’s religious beliefs. As Josh explained—again—on Slog, he tried to reach Reichert, but Reichert did not return his call. In contrast, Connelly didn’t bother calling Josh or Reichert before writing his column.
It’s also worth noting that elsewhere in today’s column, Connelly bashes “angry anti-war” activists for shouting down US Rep. Brian Baird for supporting the Iraq surge. What he doesn’t bother to mention is that, in all the reporting on that meeting, only one media outlet has criticized the left-wing anti-war orthodoxy. That would be … The Stranger.
Finally: The First Amendment was not written to “provide an alternative to boorish… behavior.” It was written to prevent government interference in citizen speech and assembly. Freedom of speech does not mean the right to speak your mind but not to be challenged or questioned. Nor does it mean, as some have suggested, that political groups like CWA have the right to be represented by a particular private PR firm. Connelly, as someone who’s been in the newspaper business for decades, is well aware of these distinctions. By calling criticism censorship—and accusing other media outlets of violating the First Amendment by asking questions—Connelly is guilty of the worst kind of scare-mongering and hypocrisy.