Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bullies in Berkeley

Daily Planet cartoon

An anti-abortionist kills Dr. George Tiller in Wichita. A white supremacist murders a the security guard at the Holocaust Museum. Three people associated with the Minutemen execute two members of a family of undocumented Latinos, hoping to steal drugs, sell them, and keep the proceeds. Meanwhile sales of guns and ammunition have continued at a fever pitch since President Obama was elected. Meanwhile, though the government keeps what seems to be an ever-expanding and nonsensical "terrorist watch list," 963 people on that list turned up trying to buy guns between 2004 and February 2009 -- and 865 were allowed to make the purchases, according to a Government Accountability Office study.

In such a climate of rising politically inspired violence, instances of bullying that aim to suppress speech need to be taken especially seriously. Thanks to my friend Deeg writing in the latest issue of UltraViolet, I became aware of a local campaign to deter advertisers who use a local alternative paper. This attack on a little community paper is particularly distressing as we watch the big papers get thinner and more vapid. We need these kinds of alternative media -- they help us know what is going on in our communities.

The Berkeley Daily Planet, counter-intutively published weekly, covers very local developments; the current issue headlines a planning commission meeting, a School Board controversy about a community governance council, and the opening of a new animal shelter.

It also publishes op-eds and editorials. Berkeley is a very opinionated community. If the writer is local and the op-ed isn't obviously part of an astroturf campaign, the Daily Planet usually prints it, according an open letter from the editors.

For many years one of the subjects of contention within the community has been the injustice done by Israel to Palestinians. As long ago as 1984, its voters were faced with a ballot measure urging the U.S. to stop funding Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine (that one got buried in controversy and campaign cash.) The horrors of last winter's Israeli assault on Gaza brought out many fierce denunciations of Israel. The editors concede they publish very few commentaries lauding Israeli actions -- they say they don't get those. Instead they get a chorus of accusations of bad faith, bias, and "anti-Semitism."

Some supporters of Israeli actions are now trying to kill off the paper.

A few East Bay individuals are threatening to bankrupt the Berkeley Daily Planet unless it stops publishing criticisms of Israel's policies and actions—opinions and ideas they brand "anti-Semitic." ...

The expressed goal, in the words of an April 21 e-mail from one of them to the Planet's executive editor, is to make the Daily Planet "reform, or close, or bleed money until you are forced out of business or die broke."

Business owners who maintain their ads have reported intimidating visits and abusive calls, but the campaign has gone beyond targeting the newspaper’s revenue. ...

One elderly reader who wrote a commentary for the Planet's opinion pages critical of Israel made a police report about a threatening message delivered to her home after the op-ed was published.

Richard Brenneman,
Berkeley Daily Planet,
June 4, 2009

This article is worth reading in its entirety -- I'd call it journalism. The Daily Planet's choice to expose the bullies has also elicited some interesting reader response, such as this:

Once you let one faction leverage your content, it emboldens others to follow suit. Before you know it, you have a newspaper so watered down it appeals to no one.

Richard Fabry,
June 18. 2009

He seems to have been reading most of the mainstream media.

We all lose when bullying works. Best wishes to the Planet and its readers.


Darlene said...

There is enough blame to go around. If the Palestinians had used their money to make the lives of the people better instead of for weapons to destroy Israel they would have a little more credibility.

Both sides need to make concessions, but I am afraid that it won't happen until they nearly destroy themselves trying to destroy each other.

janinsanfran said...

Unlike Darlene, I think this is a situation in which Palestinians have consistently failed to get their side of the story heard in the US -- and I'm glad for every place that opens up where they can.

But concurrently, I am horrified by threats to community newspapers from people who don't like their content. The answer to speech you don't like is more speech, not coercion or less speech.

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