Richard Jehn, the managing editor of the Whatcom Watch, has submitted his letter of resignation, effective today. It remains to be seen how the board of the Watch will respond - whether they will accept this and/or whether Jehn is open to reconsideration.
This resignation appears to be a victory for Craig Cole in his effort to intimidate the Watch by threatening a libel lawsuit for an article printed in their January issue. His threat was vague, without specifics, and appeared to be empty of value. Yet Cole has not retracted the threat but left it out there, hanging. We assume Cole was at least acting with the approval of his clients, the corporations attempting to push a coal port on Whatcom County.
Is this the beginning of the implosion of the Watch? It could be. I have learned from reliable sources that two editors have left the Watch over the past week. Jehn is leaving because he feels he does not have the confidence of the Watch board and staff. But there also seems a general sense that the January article could be defended and the Watch could stand up to Cole.
My perspective: The Watch has published for over 20 years through the volunteer or very low-paid efforts of a small group of activists. The liberal and progressive Whatcom community treasures the Watch. This attack from powerfully connected coal interests has shattered the cohesiveness of this small group because they are focused on independent news, not legal battles. Jehn gave his best as editor for almost two years. Dealing with a legal threat is not supposed to be part of his job description.
For the Watch to survive, those with the ability to donate money and skilled services - legal especially - must now quickly step forward. The March issue of the Watch is out and being distributed. The April issue is in planning. But quick action by new participants is needed. The core group at the Watch, who have carried this publication for years, now need our help. Or we will all lose. And the forces of power and money will have succeeded. Again.