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Feint, Calumny, Solidarity

Ellen Murphy is a Bellingham nonviolence activist who aids local liberal causes in many ways.

I had been an active member of the Whatcom Watch community for a few years, as writer, proofreader, copy-editor, associate editor and board member. I even drew a picture once for one of my articles, lacking a photograph.

Presently I am a self-described volunteer perspectivist—one who helps bring perspective to situations—to try and see (spect) through (per) whatever appears to be dense, fractured, or disguised. I became a perspectivist in early February 2014, the day the Watch received a six-page letter from public personage Craig Cole on his Straight Talk Consulting LLC stationary, demanding the Watch print, whenever and wherever he would tell us to, his words about an opinion/analysis piece in the January 2014 issue entitled “What Would Corporations Do?” (WWCD) by Sandra Robson, a piece Mr. Cole, despite never having been mentioned, said he felt defamed by, and might sue over. And it just so happens I edited that piece.

I am not a professional copy-editor. Background I bring to that work includes an English major at Ithaca College (an institution for which I also taught expository writing), high school English teacher, and years of writing and editing. When I saw the WWCD piece, I saw an article I thought had used the literary devices of personification (giving non-human entities human characteristics) and hypophora (asking questions to which answers can be brought). I thought the intended rhetorical methods were fine, that the piece was well-sourced, and that the writer had shown proximity between things that have actually happened, and things that, if they did happen, might conceivably benefit corporations with unpopular proposals.

I saw no problem with that, so I proceeded to edit with due care and concern anything I thought needed editing. In addition to quality writing and factual accuracy, I cared about fairness and documentation. I saw no malice in the writing, brought no malice to it myself, but wondered if the threatening letter that came later had been a parry or a feint, and if a feint, whether feints are ever malicious.

When I studied Latin as a school girl with unfulfilled aspirations to take the vow to be a nun, I was struck by the word translated as calumny. It meant deception, and you know, lying, slanderous stuff. I determined I would never commit calumny, a vow I am certain I have not been perfect in keeping. I have eschewed committing calumny to the best of my abilities though, and I believe that Ms Robson’s piece in the January issue of Whatcom Watch eschewed doing so as well.

The Watch worked hard in its own search for perspective during such accusatory times, but focused on getting its monthly issues out to its readers while expanding and contracting more than usual. One thing I did while attempting to see through things was to search for a lawyer. To one, I e-mailed “Help—I’m being sued by a coal terminal,” just for fun. He helped. Others did too.

Coming and going from February to May were people, divisions, questions, offers, and dead zones, while the latest variant in a correspondence that began with a lengthy formal demand seemed to be a tiny scribbled note. In my latest role as perspectivist, I’ve seen much that was dense, fractured and disguised. But that’s another day. For now, I will respond to readers and friends who wondered how to support Whatcom Watch and continue to wonder. In addition to subscribing, support is best done by citizen journalists refusing to allow their speech to be chilled through subtle forms of self-censorship that can float around like coal dust on a winter sea at the mention of words like “law suit.” And there is one more thing we can do, and that is to stand by a very fine writer, one Sandra Robson, a non-calumniator if there ever was one. And she never even took the vow.

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About Guest writer

Writer • Member since Jun 15, 2008

Comments by Readers

Wendy Harris

May 29, 2014

I just want everyone to be clear that Ellen is speaking on her own behalf, without the authorization or approval of Whatcom Watch.  It is inappropriate for Ellen to substitute her personal opinion for legal opinion, without concern for the more practical considerations of keeping the WW operating and functional.  That burden falls on the shoulders of Ellen’s former colleagues.

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Suzanne Ravet

May 29, 2014

Thank you Ellen for always being the voice of reason and compassion.

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John Servais

May 29, 2014

Actually, Wendy, you are making things up.  Ellen’s name is clearly at the top of the article and she is not implying that she speaks with anyone else’s approval or permission.  Indeed, Wendy, as one yourself who feels free to speak out strongly on your personal beliefs, it is strange for you to suggest that someone else needs permission to write. 

Wendy, as publisher of this site, I usually do not share your inflated alarmism about most environmental issues in our community - and yet I value and treasure that you post your well researched and very personal articles on NWCitizen.  I have never felt a need to caution readers that you speak only for yourself - and it seems very hypocritical to me to see you say that about another. 

Ellen has her own credentials in this community and does not need to explain to you or anyone why she feels free to speak out.  It is not “inappropriate” for her to speak out and nowhere does her article suggest that her opinion substitutes for anything else.  It is most appropriate that she speak out from her personal experience. 

We in this community have waited for Whatcom Watch to inform us of their perspective on the Craig Cole law suit threat.  The Watch has chosen to remain silent.  Ellen shines a bit of light on this very public community issue.  It is her right to do this and you, Wendy, of all people, should respect and understand that. 

I find it strange the silence from many local “liberals” to the posting of Sandy’s article last week and Ellen’s yesterday.  The usually verbal FB threads have nary a word from those who usually hype any articles dealing with local issues.  More than one has complained to me about my allowing Sandy to post an article here - even as she was marginalized by the Watch community.  Yes, the Watch has their challenges and we all support their efforts to recover from Cole’s very effective, but very empty, intimidation. But the Watch is not the only game in town.

NWCitizen will welcome articles that speak to our local public issues regardless of others who think they have the power to give permission. Lets value Ellen’s perspective on this important public issue.

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Dena Jensen

May 29, 2014

Thank you John Servais and The Northwest Citizen for publishing Ellen Murphy’s piece! 

It’s one thing to silence, censor, and disrespect staff, writers, and thus the “community forum” that the Whatcom Watch has so gallantly represented itself to be, in the name of a misguided “legal” approach to addressing Cole’s libel threat.  It is the saddest and most outrageous sort of betrayal (including self-betrayal by those who would attempt it) to chastise Ellen Murphy for her insightful and enlightening piece here on a The Northwest Citizen, that not only brings her voice to life but also the hope that all of us can feel supported enough by our peers to continue to refuse to be quiet about a 48 million ton coal terminal or any other current or impending menaces we may perceive.

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Carol Follett

May 30, 2014

Thank you to Ellen, for her wisdom and generosity, Sandra for her freely given contribution of time and intelligence for the benefit of our community, and John for his continuing courage to support free speech. We will only retain freedom if we practice it. Giving in to threats from bullies will certainly have us self-silencing and will encourage repetition of the behavior from other quarters.

It is my opinion that those with money, power, and vested interests should be ashamed to threaten individual citizens and a small community supported organization like the WW for speaking out; it is simply unsporting.

This conversation should also alert us to look at the threat to journalism on the national scale as well. Please take a look at The Intercept article “A Response to Michael Kinsley” by Glen Greenwald with very frightening quotes for those of us who still believe in democracy and a “free world”:

“The New York Times just published a review of No Place to Hide that expressly argues on the question of what should and should not get reported: “that decision must ultimately be made by the government.” Moreover, those who do that reporting against the government’s wishes are not journalists but “perpetrators,” and whether they should be imprisoned “is not a straightforward or easy question.””

I am going to buy a copy of No Place to Hide this week. Perhaps we should suggest this as a “Whatcom Reads” book.

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Terry Wechsler

May 30, 2014

John, et al.,
Wendy was speaking to the legal status of an individual, and the legal implications of that person’s statements. The problem is that those who completely understand the issues are forestalled from saying anything other than that there are certain matters that they cannot discuss publicly. You now have two JD’s publicly stating that there are legal issues that must be considered. This isn’t personal, and the Watch has never discredited the work of any of its writers. I will say, personally, that I hope the personal attacks will cease.
Terry

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Dena Jensen

May 30, 2014

As the comments unfold on this thread, I feel we have a huge reason to celebrate.  By the Northwest Citizen continuing to be instrumental in lifting the ban on speaking about Craig Cole’s libel threat we can now all join in a conversation, even an argument, that begins to provide release and understanding of how it is possible to overcome the hurdles of false accusations.  Now, we get to hear perspectives from supporters, newspapers, and their staffs and writers individually, who have their opinions and may have been some of the ones that were threatened. 

In taking the courageous steps to write and have her perspective piece published, Ellen Murphy, who is known to have sacrificed safety for potential and real legal consequences in the past, once again is a role model for us.  We can always say: What about her family members? What about the newspaper? What about the laws of the land that she could be judged to be breaking if she goes out to protest, or speaks her mind despite fearful consequences?  However, the more dire question is - if this is what she believes is right and in the best interest of all - what if she doesn’t?

Another issue that jumps out at me is the question in this case, of whether having people with legal credentials in charge of the decision making regarding the day to day operations of a newspaper that seeks to give voice to otherwise silenced members of a community is actually a conflict of interest.  It may not have to be, but in this case it seems that what feels like a very black and white legal stand being taken by board members and management at the Whatcom Watch regarding this Craig Cole libel threat, just serves to be blocking the flow of information and silencing the voices that a community forum would be, conversely, seeking to release. 

John Servais, Wendy Harris, and Terry Weschler could in fact be bringing on all sorts of threats and legal battles to their publications (who are entrusted with the well being of their staff, writers, and their families) by doing nothing but publishing material that, on any given day can be perceived as a threat by some wealthy company or individual who has a bottom line to meet and investors to satisfy and who can sensationalize, manipulate, or manufacture some minor flaw that can be capitalized on.  And I know that most likely even as their lawyers are seeking a victorious outcome over our freedom of speech, they will be telling us that it is not personal.  But the problem is, to all of us, who seek to have a voice and are trying to learn to act on doing what we feel is right to help others as well as ourselves, it is.  It’s very personal.  And when we treat each other as real people in need of compassion, support, and the ability to speak our truths, then we can even win court cases against great odds and, failing that - if everything is taken from us - together, we can build something even better from the debris left from the destruction that unfeeling corporations or callous individuals leave behind in the coal dust.

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Wendy Harris

May 31, 2014

Dear “Dena”: Your arguments would make Ayn Rand proud. What does it matter the costs to others, as long as Ellen is allowed to do what she believes is right? What greater danger to our freedom then to have legal issues resolved by legal professionals? 

However, others in the community place higher value on keeping the Whatcom Watch operational, so that it can continue to provide a community voice. Being crushed into debris and rising from ashes, as you suggest, is not a practical way to accomplish this goal. Sounds like you can do a very good job of satisfying your own needs. It gets a little more complex when you are acting on behalf of a greater public good.

I assume that you, Ellen and John will be covering any legal expenses associated with Ellen’s self-indulgent, inaccurate story, and that you will provide the volunteer efforts needed to keep the Watch afloat when those of us left get fed up from the constant criticism and the conspiracy theories being leveled at us by alleged “Watch” supporters. Because claiming high moral ground while expecting others to pay the price is not heroic.

Your interest in attacking the Watch is clear to me, but it will not be clear to others because you have not revealed your true identity, or why this matter is so intensely personal to you.  Instead, you try to manipulate people’ emotions through lofty sounding principles. In my book, that makes you the worst form of charlatan. 

So come on, “Dena.” Tell us who you really are.

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Suzanne Ravet

May 31, 2014

Wendy - Dena Jensen is a real, living, breathing person.  I know her.  She does have the right to have and share her opinions.  Suggesting that she must be a ‘make believe’ person just because you don’t know her or agree with her is hurtful and alienates people from wanting to engage in activist work.

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Barbara Perry

May 31, 2014

Thank you Ellen for giving the public your perspective on Whatcom Watch (WW) and Craig Cole.  I know as an occasional writer for WW, I wanted to write at least a letter to the paper to give my ideas on the matter.  But Craig Cole intimidated me, and I imagine many others, to remain silent just to be sure the law suit threat did not became a reality that the paper could not afford—even though they were not guilty of Cole’s accusations. Wasn’t it a volunteer lawyer who said do not respond to Cole?  Your article I feel lessoned the drama of silence In this country of citizens who do believe in free speech and freedom of the press.

It is interesting that lawyers are often the ones warning people of exercising their freedom of speech.
Didn’t someone die for those rights?

The metaphor of the sword hitting the feather is an apt one.  And I love all the NW Citizen letters that support your article.

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Dena Jensen

May 31, 2014

It was great to wake up to see that the conversation is continuing.

Wendy, I am Sandy Robson’s partner.  Thus, obviously I have gotten to experience the chain of events that lead to these comments in a reasonably close proximity.  It’s one of the many things that are personal to me.  I am what you and others like Ellen, Terry, John, Sandy, Frank James, Suzanne Ravet, Deb Cruz, Matt Petryni, Paula Rotundi and the long list of others who have put themselves out there to try to better the our county and the world for all of us, could consider a bystander and a maybe even a lemming.  Some of you may, in fact, think that and I know of others on that same list who do not.  I value the support of those who believe in me and my ability to grow and change and that is why am doing my best to offer my support in return. Whether I suck at it or not is to be determined. 

Last night I wrote what I did to proclaim my support for what I see as good things happening and to offer whatever inspirational words I could summon. Hopefully it was obvious to most that I was not wishing any worst case scenarios on anyone, but was merely trying to say that people working together can come back from almost any calamity, so we shouldn’t live in fear of those who try to bully us.  And in relation to the Whatcom Watch, since Terry had offered the information that “You now have two JD’s publicly stating that there are legal issues that must be considered,” I wanted to voice my question about whether taking an entirely legal approach to addressing a legal threat is always, or maybe ever, a good idea.  I do believe, we can and should use laws to guide us.  And I am always thankful for and attentive to legal advice.  But laws aren’t always right and lawyers don’t all prosecute and defend in the same way and judges don’t always rule as we predict they will. It’s really about risks and odds, and there are things like usual outcomes, doctored results and freak accidents that enter in. 

I just don’t think it’s odd or unresonable that some people in a newspaper setting, after careful research and consideration, find themselves inclined to back free speech over fear of legal repercussions and feel the need to offer their version of events and their opinions about them.

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Sandy Robson

May 31, 2014

Wendy Harris: I know that you are respected in the Bellingham community for your tireless environmental activism and I greatly respect that work you do. Because of that, I have refrained from publicly voicing my opinion on some of your actions and inactions as a board member at WW.

But after reading your negative comments on this wonderful perspective above by Ellen, I am no longer going to swallow my opinion out of deference to your contributions to environmental activism in the community.

I believe you are completely off base and out of line in your comments here. You have leveled multiple baseless accusations here which is very reminiscent of Craig Cole’s tactic/approach in his sending his letter threatening libel to WW. A letter which also included Cole hurling unfounded disparaging remarks about me, personally, which is something I never did to him.

If I interpreted your 2nd comment which was responding to Dena Jensen, correctly, either you are accusing her of not being a real person when you call her “the worst kind of charlatan” and when you keep placing quotation marks around her name, or you are insinuating she had not been the one writing her comment.

I’m not really sure what to think by your comment to Dena, especially because you should remember meeting Dena at the April WW Roundtable meeting as she sat 2 ft. from you, and all 9 of us sitting at the table that day introduced ourselves, announcing who we were which Dena also did, herself. So I would imagine you remember and therefore would know that Dena is a real person, not make believe.

Dena is an extremely private person who is not one to speak out publicly. As a matter of fact, in the 17 years I have known Dena, I don’t think I have ever been aware of her having made a comment publicly on a newspaper or blog until yesterday when she felt moved to speak out in support of Ellen Murphy for her excellent perspective piece, and for John Servais for his willingness to publish her piece and his embracing the ideals of free press and free speech. It is very much out of character for Dena to do that so I can attest to the magnitude of her having made those public comments.

I was actually quite surprised when Dena told me she had commented on Ellen’s perspective on NWCitizen. I was also impressed. I can assure you that Dena thinks for herself and is her own person. I am impressed by that fact, too.

I feel it important to make sure you understand this and know it to be true.

I have tried to be very respectful to WW in light of Cole’s threatening letter, so I have tried to not speak out. But, at this point, I am no longer willing to stay silent. I’m glad that people in our community reading NWCitizen will get to read Ellen’s perspective along with your comments and Terry’s comment, so the public can get a glimpse of the climate and dynamic currently at WW.

I greatly value WW, and I’m grateful they published the 5 articles I contributed to the Watch, and they have been a fearless voice for the community. But unfortunately after the attack from Cole’s letter, that community voice is now being chilled and diluted through a strainer of fear and intimidation which resulted from a baseless general allegation of libel from local GPT project consultant Craig Cole, who is working for SSA Marine, the company trying to push a 48M ton coal terminal down our throats. A claim, by the way, which he never provided any specific examples of falsities or where he was defamed in that article after several written requests. So his unsubstantiated accusations continue to hover over WW and our community like an ominous cloud.

It’s way past time for our community and WW to reclaim our freedom of press and freedom of speech and not back down to the intimidation from corporations and industries wanting to put a monstrous coal terminal in our community. I hope others reading Ellen’s piece and the resulting comment thread, will become empowered to help in the fight against the proposed coal terminal/s, and against censorship to any degree of free speech and free press.

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Barbara Perry

May 31, 2014

Wendy,
You write some useful, informative articles for both NW Citizen and WW.  However, how could you possibly connect anyone writing in favor of Ellen’s article with Ann Rand? Maybe I gave up reading Rand too soon or forgot something from my thirty year old reading—or was it forty?. How do you connect Dena and Rand? I have the feeling you won’t explain, just as, on another topic, you would not explain why WW should give minimal pay to writers who could use some monetary substance.  Why do you fail to answer pertinent questions?  Are we the people supposed to have memorized Rand or know answers to arguments you do not present? Are you attempting to force arguments with emotional response rather than reason?  You are too good at expressing reasonable argument to reduce your arguments to unreasonable emotions.

I would not mind being slammed for my opinions if you would give me reasonable reasons for your thinking even if I do not agree with you.  Most of the time I think your writing is worthy and useful but not this time.

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John Lesow

May 31, 2014

When I first read the print edition of Sandy Robson’s article in the January Whatcom Watch, I was impressed by her research.  The only sour note was the last paragraph of the article, which I felt was strictly opinion and did not compliment the otherwise well-documented text, complete with footnotes.

I just checked the link at the bottom of Ms. Murphy’s article and see that the Watch has now dropped that last paragraph from the article.

As a subscriber and frequent reader of the Watch, at no time did I perceive that the comments in the last paragraph were directed at any particular individual.  However, the comments did nothing to advance the article and should have been edited out.  Had that been done, a lot of talented and dedicated people would have avoided an extended period of hassle and heartburn. Not to mention expenses and loss of professional time that could have been spent researching other stories.

Wendy Harris and Terry Weschler are lawyers. Good ones. They know a great deal more about the facts and negotiations that are relevant to the threatened lawsuit.  Wendy’s initial post was an exercise in caution regarding the threatened libel suit.  Nothing more.

As an occasional contributor to the Watch and Northwest Citizen, it saddens me when dedicated and talented people that share similar values engage in personal attacks with one another.  You can bet that the Coal port supporters would never engage in public arguments.  You need a united front to win the battle.

John, to suggest Wendy Harris is an “alarmist” does a disservice to Wendy and a disservice to you.  And it only serves to fuel the prejudices and mischaracterizations that are routinely directed at journalists that have the courage to provide different perspectives on community issues.

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Tip Johnson

May 31, 2014

Excuse us, we live here. 

We should not cower and wring our hands in fear of speaking our minds.  It is more important to stand up and defy corporate bullies and destroyers. I am disappointed the Whatcom Watch caved to the chilling threats of Craig Cole and his craggy COAL masters, and that it has been unwilling to afford the community full expression of the issue.

This coal dump project purposely ravaged a forest and wetlands without permits, knowingly ran roughshod over a Lummi archeological site, arm-twisted local government into skipping the normal penalties and then threatened local journalism for speaking out. They are unconcerned with likely killing off the remaining herring stock at Cherry Point. They are content to squander the very quality of our lives, belligerently shoving those who care out of the way.

Now all liberals can do is argue among themselves? Well, I guess it’s an argument we need to have. Don’t wimp out!

As for legal issues, if there really are any, why are they so secret? Shouldn’t they be discussed so citizen journalism can progress?  I didn’t find the original article defamatory, libelous or slander.  I found it rather straightforward.  If anything Cole&Coal needs more strident challenges.  I found Cole’s letter irrational and his logic weak.  He thinks patronizing a flood-bound tribe with loaves of white bread proves he is not a racist and choosing confederate outfits for his high school band is just good clean fun, so now he can bulldoze Lummi history and expect them and all of us to remain his friends, or at least shut up in fear of the consequences.  Bite me!

The scariest bit here is how fast we all go off gnawing at one anothers heels in the wake of some bully’s belligerent nonsense.  Among those at odds in this fray are mostly those who should be fast friends on the same team, working hard toward mostly the same goals.

Though I don’t take Wendy’s position on this issue, I value her considerable contribution to the community, the Watch and NWCitizen as much as any other.  I’ve known Ellen quite a while and have never had any indication of any but the highest integrity.  Lively debate is necessary and beneficial, but at least among our own team, we should practice disagreeing without becoming disagreeable.  Thanks to you all for your contributions and as for Cole&Coal, they can…well, bite me!

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Dena Jensen

May 31, 2014

I second the motion for more strident Cole&Coal; challenges!  And I would not mind a few more craggy COAL master references, just for fun.

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Terry Wechsler

Jun 01, 2014

The real story is how much time we have wasted on this subject, having already called out Craig Cole publicly and his ignominy in this entire sordid affair. I probably erred in respecting Ellen’s request that I not address the issue more forcefully publicly, based on legal advice she solicited for the Watch, but out of respect for her as then-WW board member/editor I demurred, and actually had to due to the attorney’s code of professional conduct. I can’t advise anyone to act contrary to their attorney’s advice, and messaging from the board was so confusing .... Well, it was what it was.

What it never was was an attempt to stifle the truth about multi-national corporations. The Watch, like any other publication, must avoid libel. Darn. As activists, we have to even more scrupulously adhere to the principle that the facts speak for themselves, and are generally bad enough. Editorializing rarely adds to the conversation (as expressed by John L. above), and is generally where journalists get into trouble. We shouldn’t mind read.

Neither Wendy nor I has been running anything at the Watch. Given that the Watch has only a handful of volunteers, and in the chaos of the past few months, I know I’ve filled some gaps I hadn’t in the past. I also have done some research into reorganization strategies. They’ve just hired Bob Schober to be their new editor, and I am confident that under his lead, the Watch will emerge from this stronger and with good operational and editorial policies in place. The Watch has always been the most independent of the print media in town, and stands poised to be only better. Craig may have done us a favor in that respect.

What isn’t happening is suppression of the truth by anyone. On the contrary, I know I personally am doing all I can to ensure it is the truth that will be spoken. Defame the hell out of the bastards, but if you can back it up with facts (the truth is a defense to defamation claims), then go for it! I’ve personally called out every local polluter I could identify in the last 60 days, including the Fortune 500 members. I wish I could get more people fired up about the cleanup that isn’t happening at our 27 sites identified by Ecology. What I REALLY wish is that we were talking about that instead of this.

Report the facts. Keep the editorializing out, use basic good journalistic practices, and there are no issues. Editing is not censorship. Editing is about trying to be better writers. Trying to make it about more is dishonest and counterproductive to the activist movement and needs to stop.

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Dena Jensen

Jun 01, 2014

I think that people are mistaken that any ongoing discussions about an event that has affected free speech and a local publication is a waste of time.  It might be using time that we wish we could be spending on other things.  Sorry about that, but as referenced earlier in the comments, people have died for this issue, so I don’t think it’s anything close to silly. Meanwhile if you don’t want to say anything or read anything, then you don’t have to.  Things might get personal and heated for a bit.  That’s how we eventually come to an understanding.  We do it in public sometimes, so we are less likely to feel like someone is getting away with something when no one is watching and meanwhile we put ourselves out there for public assessment as well.

I just want to state my observation that Sandy Robson has worked in an extremely positive and collaborative way with Bill and Ellen and Richard (as they have with her) throughout the editing process for the articles she has submitted and has had published in the Whatcom Watch.  And she has always (except possibly in the case of her first article when she was less experienced with the process; she had never had articles published in a citizen newspaper before) offered to have those articles run as editorial pieces, were the editors to believe it was proper.  Sandy does not believe she has the power to read minds and at the same time works hard to use a questioning approach and suggest that a set of actions can add up to a certain overall consequence and general perception, whether accidental or on purpose.  She leaves it up to her readers to decide if this is true or not, and whether it is good or bad.

Terry said: “Report the facts. Keep the editorializing out, use basic good journalistic practices, and there are no issues.”  I believe this is untrue.  First of all it’s impossible to keep a point of view out of an article.  The viewpoint of articles in the Herald are apparent, often right there in the headlines. More importantly, there can still be unfounded claims of libel and other infractions or there can be other actions taken - that are not just in the form of empty threats against a newspaper - at the whim of anyone with enough motive to be driven to make those accusations about any article that feels threatening, for whatever reason.  Whether we are just threatened, or if actions are taken against any of us, whether legal or physical, the health of our community depends on our support of one another, the ability to ultimately treat each other with respect and include each other in the process, and above all to keep things out in the open and to discuss them freely.

One place I do agree with Terry, we need a whole passel of people to be added to the mix at the Whatcom Watch.  Tell your friends.

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Dena Jensen

Jun 01, 2014

Here is info and a question for us all to consider regarding this statement in Terry’s post earlier this morning, “Neither Wendy nor I has been running anything at the Watch,”:

It is my understanding that Richard Jehn resigned as Managing Editor in early March and Wendy Harris and Bill McCallum have been the only remaining board members for approximately the last two-plus months at the Whatcom Watch, and Terry Wechsler is the facebook manager. If it is not at least partly true that Wendy and Terry have been running at least something there for the last couple months, then who in fact, has been?  The implications of All of the potential answers to this question are good to reflect on regarding the issues being discussed in this thread.

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Wendy Harris

Jun 01, 2014

Dena: What is your goal here?  Because it is becoming more apparent that it is to attack me and Terry for the offense of having legal backgrounds and believing in compliance with legal and professional standards.

For someone who attended one roundtable, you assert a very strong opinion on how the Watch operates. We hold a monthly roundtable.. anyone may attend, and anyone who does has a voice.  Beyond that, titles have no meaning, a fact that Ellen can confirm. I submit a monthly column, (normally past deadline.) I do not edit, review or work on issue layout. I have no editorial voice other than that reflected in my own writing.  Beyond that, I have insisted that the Watch handle the threat of lawsuit based on advice of independent legal counsel. What exactly does that make me guilty of? 

You talk on and on about lofty goals and free speech and corporate power, and yet, the only thing you focus on is a bunch of volunteers attempting to run a community newspaper, who you believe have somehow slighted your partner. Get over it. There is no conspiracy here.  The only scandal is that the NWC is giving voice to people engaged in bad judgement and personal gripes, resulting in irreparable injury to former friendships. 

John, exactly how long do you intend to provide a vehicle to anyone wishing to make unsubstantiated, and false claims against myself and others associated with the WW?

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John Servais

Jun 01, 2014

I agree with John Lesow that my choice of the word “alarmism” was inappropriate and I regret it.  The point I was trying to make was that while the opinions of writers are not necessarily my opinions, I value the intelligent presentation of their perspectives.  Of course by using an over the top expression the point of the sentence was blocked. 

That said, the vague and ambiguous legal warnings from Wendy and Terry are not relevant to NWCitizen.  They may be relevant to past writers of the Whatcom Watch - and as such could have been directed to them privately.  But then we would not have had this painfully entertaining discussion.  As such, I have no objection to their being posted here but W and T should then understand that others of us will feel free to take issue with them. 

I also disagree with several comments about reporting vs editorializing.  Plus one comment confuses editing with editorializing.  NWCitizen makes no effort to provide “objective reporting”, because such a thing does not exist and never has.  Not in the Bellingham Herald, not in the New York Times. Nowhere.  We humans bring our values, beliefs, experience, education and personal perspective to our writing.  I’ve been in and out of the newspaper game for over 50 years and the older journalists I’ve known also hold that view.  All news reporting contains bias. The Herald reporters sometimes almost write editorials that are masking as reporting.

NWCitizen seeks writers who openly bring their perspective to reporting on community news that the Herald either glosses over, ignores or misreports.  That is why I started this site in 1996 when the Herald was giving the Port of Bellingham a free ride and I had been exposing the corruption and waste there.  In 2008 I put the site into a database with custom code to display the articles - and was then able to bring on additional writers and enable commenting.  The goal has been to bring on writers with a point of view - with a value system that is progressive or liberal or pro active or community oriented.  Call it editorializing, or call it intelligent selection of facts and the drawing of conclusions from those facts. It is what NWCitizen is all about. 

Personally, I feel there was no libel of any sort in that Whatcom Watch January article.  There is a theory some of us are discussing that the unanimous vote by the Burnaby, BC, city council on January 18 to reject the coal port expansion there, and where one council member read from the Whatcom Watch of how we are trying to stop our coal port from being developed down here, is what triggered Craig Cole’s masters to sic him on the Watch to cool their writing.

As publisher, I welcome well written perspectives on issues that are of concern to our community.  I believe the Herald has failed us miserably - partially because the big corporate media have not yet figured out how to survive as print media.  The Herald editors and writers are too few and have too small a budget to cover news in our community.  NWCitizen is not in a position to offer an alternative to the Herald - and does not try to.  We supplement it, the Weekly, the Watch and other local news media.  We do what we can.  Call it what you want, NWCitizen is independent and values perspective from its writers.

Here is the link to the Burnaby council vote.  Reading of WW begins about minute 11:30.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kD_R65BcVk&desktop;_uri=/watch?v=-kD_R65BcVk&app=desktop

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Tip Johnson

Jun 01, 2014

The comments on this thread have been a bit too extreme. Here, we are supposed to test our ideas and make progress on issues, not foul our own nests with unfriendly hyperbole.

I see nothing ‘wrong’ with what Ellen wrote, and much value.  It does not seem inappropriate for Ellen to express her opinion.  I do not see any way in which she tried to substitute or represent her opinion as a legal one.  I can’t guess what burden her writing heaps upon others. I do not apprehend any significant cost to others.  I can’t imagine any legal costs arising for anyone from the article.  I don’t perceive it as self-indulgent, inaccurate or manipulative (I read Cole’s letter).  I don’t see anyone attacking the Watch - except Cole&Coal.  If anyone is telling the Watch how to operate, I missed it.

There have been several accusations, disparagement and some attacking.  This has indeed caused hassles, heartburn and wasted time, but the only scandal, bad judgement, gripes, irreparable injury and unsubstantiated, false claims I see are in the overly emotional bickering in comments here, all somehow trying to discuss an important community issue that remains poorly framed and badly managed.

Discourse has been chilled, diluted and submerged.  Fear and intimidation have prevailed - all too successfully.  It should be a point of embarrassment for us that Cole’s stupid-ass letter that reads like was drinking at the time is still corroding the courage and stamina of some of our most stalwart writing resources.  The irony is that threats aside, it would be idiotic and suicidal for Cole&Coal to sue the Whatcom Watch or any local environmental writer - whether reporting facts, asserting opinion or framing perspectives.  This would propel them into the spotlight with such negativity that it would likely end the careers of any foolish enough to proceed.

The insinuating, erosive effect that Cole’s fifty-cent, hollow-straw gambit is still having months later probably brings no end of joy to Master Coal.  They are experienced enough to gauge our metal, compare it to other terminal prospects and conclude we might be the ones most easily made distracted, confused and ineffective.

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