Sandy Robson guest writes this article. This is her third article on NWCitizen.
In February 2014, I was accused of libel. Craig Cole, the local consultant on the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project for SSA Marine/Pacific International Terminals (SSA/PIT), sent a letter on February 5, to Whatcom Watch (WW) accusing me, and the newspaper, of libel. He threatened to sue over my article, “What Would Corporations Do? Native American Rights and the Gateway Pacific Terminal“ (WWCD), in the January issue of WW. Cole alleged he had been libeled, even though neither his name nor his consulting position with SSA/PIT was ever mentioned. Also noticeably missing in Cole’s letter were any specific examples of falsehoods or defamation in my article.
Oddly, Cole did not send a letter charging libel or threatening a lawsuit to the publisher of Intercontinental Cry (IC), or Jay Taber, the author of the editorial, “Echoes of Racism,” published in that magazine on January 13. However, in his letter to WW, Cole cited Taber as having libeled him for giving readers his views of my article. To be clear: neither I, nor WW, had anything to do with Taber’s editorials.
On February 8, IC magazine published another editorial by Taber, “Gateway Pacific Terminal Consultant Threatens Journalists,” about Cole’s letter to WW. That editorial by Taber caused Cole to write again to WW saying, “I would prefer a solution to a lawsuit, but it appears that your coordination with Jay Tabor [sic] is ramping things up. I am sorry that he has continued to spread libelous falsities about connections with racist groups.” Adding, “This is a smear campaign that can not go unchallenged.”
In his second letter, Cole alleged that WW collaborated with Taber on his editorials. Besides being false, this accusation, along with Cole’s first letter in which he initially tossed Taber into the mix, muddled things by attempting to merge Taber’s editorial views with my article. The confusion worked in Cole’s favor.
On March 5, Cascadia Weekly (CW) published an article by Tim Johnson, “Whatcom Watch Libel Is Claimed, An Editor Resigns.” Johnson quotes Cole’s February 5 letter to WW. The quote, as published in CW, was:
“‘PIT and its affiliates have not, in fact, hired anti-Indian racists,’ Cole stated in his protest. ‘Nor is there a public relations campaign against the Lummi Nation or the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. There is not a speck of truth to the speculation that they have done either of these things.”
Unfortunately, Johnson omitted three important words from that quote, “…as Tabor [sic] claims.” Cole’s letter actually read:
“PIT and its affiliates have not, in fact, hired anti-Indian racists. Nor is there a public relations campaign against the Lummi Nation or the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, as Tabor [sic] claims. There is not a speck of truth to the speculation that they have done either of these things.”
Cole was referring to Jay Taber’s January 13 editorial, not to my WW article. Unfortunately, by failing to make that distinction to his readers, by manipulating the quote from Cole’s letter, whether intentional or not, Johnson’s readers associated that quote with my WW article even though it specifically referred to Jay Taber and his “Echoes of Racism” editorial. In Johnson’s CW article, he excluded the title of my WW article, did not provide a link to my article, didn’t identify me as the author and didn’t ask me to comment.
Those three words, “as Tabor [sic] claims,” were vital to the integrity of Johnson’s article and my reputation. Anyone reading my article would see that neither Craig Cole, nor his client SSA/PIT, were called racist. If people read Johnson’s CW article, but not mine, they would likely get the opposite impression.
Craig Cole has perpetuated the incorrect idea in his letters, which he disseminated to various individuals and media, that in my article he was called a racist. It appears Johnson perpetuated that idea by manipulating Cole’s quote.
A February 20 post Johnson made on his personal facebook page resulted in 184 comments. The post was about a February 19 article on NWCitizen breaking the story of Cole’s letters to WW. I became aware of Johnson’s facebook thread on February 22. Below are four comments Johnson posted:
“It irks him [Craig Cole] to be called a racist. Who can figure?”
“He [Craig Cole] wants the casual allegations of racist motives to stop, and I can’t say I blame him.”
“Does a vigorous defense of a perceived wrong (being called a racist and being annoyed by that) = bullying or media intimidation? That’s the litmus.”
“Craig didn’t like being called a racist or an associate with racism, even through oblique inference—and, weirdly, I understand that.”
Those comments seem to perpetuate the idea that Cole was called racist, or was associated with racism, but don’t clarify who supposedly was making the accusations, or where. It seems reasonable to expect that as an editor, Johnson would understand the importance of clarification. Unless otherwise specified, I was concerned that members of our community who were following Johnson’s facebook thread would associate his comments with my WW article.
I “Friend Requested” Johnson and sent him a message via facebook on February 22, letting him know I wanted to comment on that thread. Two days later, after two more facebook messages, I was allowed to comment. My comment was #182 out of 184, so the thread had mostly died off. Below is an excerpt from my comment to Johnson:
“Of course you are entitled to defend Craig Cole and his perceived claim that he is being associated with racism, but when you do, I ask that you then clarify who exactly you are referring to, because if you are referring to me, I believe you are sorely mistaken. If you are referring to Jay Taber’s writing, or anyone else’s, then please stop confusing people by not specifying that important distinction as to who.
“And lastly, I believe the letter that Craig Cole wrote contained much more than what you characterize above as ‘a vigorous defense of a perceived wrong.’ I believe that Mr. Cole, in writing some of what he did in his 4 page letter to WW, actually attacked my reputation, which is something I never did to his.”
In my comment I also requested that Johnson revise his comments by clarifying them. He never did. Below are the first two sentences of Tim Johnson’s response to me:
“I don’t believe that by NOT referencing something and by not specifying anything I am in fact referencing and specifying something. But perhaps this is wrong.”
I wonder if anyone would ever read my comment which was at the end of a very long comment thread, especially since now that entire 184 comment thread and post by Johnson have disappeared.