This note to file may be useful to review in advance of the next round of port commissioner elections in the future. It does not cover the entire campaign and others may wish to elaborate on, add to, or amend the points below.
During the recent election campaign for two port commissioner positions at the Port of Bandon, the challengers, Don Chance, campaigning for position #1 held by Reg Pullen, and Jill Halliburton, campaigning for position #3 held by Rick Goche, confronted a number of media-related problems that hampered their campaigns.
Most notable among these were unfair campaign tactics practiced by the Port of Bandon staff and shoddy journalism standards at The Bandon Western World (BWW). A higher standard of fairness and ethical conduct might have resulted in a different election result.
To many readers of the BWW during the campaign, it was evident that the BWW was violating journalistic standards in an effort to sway readers to vote for the incumbent commissioners running for re-election. The BWW had the option to produce an editorial in support of the incumbents, which would have made the paper’s view transparent to readers. Instead, the paper repeatedly inserted bias into its coverage. Here are some examples.
The Port Manager, Gina Dearth, penned a lengthy letter in support of the incumbents that was published in the BWW on May 9. As Port Manager, her job is directly supervised by and is dependent upon the support of the incumbent commissioners. In other words, she has a clear conflict of interest and should have played no role whatsoever in the port elections. If she did not recognize her own conflict of interest, the chairman of the Port Commission, Robert Miller, should have ensured that she did not participate in the campaign. At the same time, the BWW circumvented its own publicly printed policy of not allowing letters to the editor in excess of 500 words (her letter was far in excess of 500 words) by titling Ms. Dearth’s submission, “Proud of port’s accomplishments; Port Update,” in huge type, and then including it on the Letters to the Editor page of the paper, together with a photo of Ms. Dearth.
In its April 11 issue, just before the start of the election campaign, the BWW printed a lengthy article on the front page with a byline that read “by Steve McCasland,” and then in smaller print on the next line: “For The Port of Bandon.” At the end of the article, which was continued on an inside page, the following sentence was included in parentheses: “Steve McCasland assists the Port of Bandon in its efforts to inform the public about matters affecting the agency.” Because most people don’t read bylines or information in parentheses at the end of a long article continued to an inside page, and keeping in mind that Steve McCasland for many years was a paid reporter for the BWW and his byline would be familiar, the average reader most likely concluded that the article was produced by the BWW, not the Port. The article showcased a trip to Washington DC by two port commissioners, including incumbent, Rick Goche, Jill Halliburton’s election opponent, portraying them as staunch lobbyists for much-needed dredging funds. While well written and informative, the article was not independently produced by an unbiased news staff; it was, in fact, a promotional piece produced by the Port and placed in the newspaper at an opportune time: the start of the election campaign. Candidates Chance and Halliburton should have been offered a similar opportunity.
At the start of the election campaign, Don Chance submitted a letter for publication in the BWW Letters to the Editor Section and then was informed by the editor that his letter would be published only after a letter from his challenger, Reg Pullen, had been submitted. Is this standard policy? Several weeks later, the BWW published a letter from Mr. Pullen, but without including Mr. Chance’s letter. The editor apologized and then printed Mr. Chance’s letter the following week. The editor’s conduct was unprofessional at best, and worse if intentionally deceptive and motivated by bias.
The BWW printed two stories in back to back issues of the paper about the recently published book on the history of the Port of Bandon authored by Reg Pullen and Robert Miller as part of the Port of Bandon’s 100th anniversary. The first article, on April 25, was on the front page accompanied by a large photo of authors Reg Pullen and Robert Miller. On May 2, the following week, the BWW published another large photo of the authors on an inside page. No doubt, the book’s publication was newsworthy, but both articles essentially covered the same ground; the timing and extensive coverage gave the appearance of favoring the incumbent candidate, Reg Pullen. The formal celebration of the Port’s anniversary will be in early fall. Two articles on the same topic with large photos seemed overkill.
All candidates were given a deadline for submission of responses to questions prepared by the BWW and the resulting Q&A was published in the paper on May 9. Mr. Chance and Ms. Halliburton submitted responses by the deadline, but, through an oversight, their bio information was not submitted, although it was available and had been used in their campaign. As a result, the bio information for the challengers was listed as “not available.” Certainly, a one-line email reminder to the candidates would have promptly produced the bio information. The editor’s decision not to make the extra effort seemed petty and not in the interest of BWW readers.
In its May 16 issue, the BWW published a lengthy letter by incumbent commissioner, Rick Goche entitled, “Fact vs. Fiction at the Port.” In his letter, Mr. Goche listed his views of “facts” about the port and his accomplishments. By titling this letter “fact vs. fiction,” the implication was that Mr. Goche presented the facts and the challengers offered “fiction.” Presumably, the BWW was responsible for the heading of the letter.
Collectively, these incidents reveal a pattern of bias that has no place in a well-run newspaper.