Craig Cole, the local face for plans to build the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal port at Cherry Point, sent a letter on February 5 to the Whatcom Watch threatening a libel lawsuit unless the monthly newspaper prints a correction or retraction of a story that appeared in the January issue. What article could provoke such a reaction? Sandra Robson wrote an article titled What Would Corporations Do? Native American Rights and the Gateway Pacific Terminal. The article does not mention Mr. Cole.
News of this lawsuit has been circulating for a couple weeks now, confidentially, among local political insiders. It is time the public knew. I have tried several means to actually read the four page letter - but have been denied. However, the facts have been corroborated from several sources having first hand knowledge of the situation.
The January Whatcom Watch article pointed to an effort by local extreme-right groups to attack the Lummi Nation and marginalize their efforts to prevent the coal port from being built. Cole objected to being connected to these efforts. Which he wasn’t. The article suggested that large corporations often secretly engage local extremist groups to do their dirty work for them and this must be where Cole has taken exception, as he is the local contact for the coal port.
Whatcom Watch Editor Richard Jehn was willing to talk about the issue once I confronted him with knowledge of it, but has strongly requested that no reporting be done on the issue. The board of directors for the Watch have apparently consulted a Seattle attorney who has delayed giving them advice. I was told last week that by Friday the attorney would advise, but it was delayed until Monday, and now has been delayed again until later this week.
In a baffling turn of events, Cole has apparently asked Tim Johnson of the Cascadia Weekly to arbitrate the issue and convince the Watch to print a retraction - a retraction that Cole would write. As of this date, the Bellingham Herald has not reported on this developing situation.
We have seen the effects of big money on politics and corporate media, and now those long arms are reaching into our local media – using lawsuits to intimidate or bully local citizen journalists away from vigorously reporting what is happening. Indeed, it has been working! The folks at the Whatcom Watch are stuck in a defensive crouch over this threat. The Watch has no money and Mr. Cole has some of the largest corporations in the country behind him. It seems unlikely Cole would send such a letter without the backing and encouragement of his corporate clients.
If large corporations are trying to silence local reporting, citizens should know. My thinking is that Ms Robson and the Whatcom Watch were getting close to the truth of what is going on and this is a classic corporate effort to silence them.