Now it’s true that Bass Pro sells guns, so I’d expect the 2nd Amendment to come up in the discussion about Bass Pro coming to Connecticut, but Freedom of the Press and the 1st Amendment? (really?)
Well Mayor Bill Finch’s Chief of Staff, Adam Wood, found a way to do it.
The website Only In Bridgeport sets the scene
For those eager to see how “politics” really works, let’s return to last week’s Wait, What? post about how Bass Pro and Carbela’s have been extraordinarily successful in getting taxpayers to fund their construction projects.
Recall that a watch-dog foundation, The Franklin Center, found that Bass Pro shops and Cabela’s “received or are promised more than $2.2 billion from American taxpayers” over the past 15 years.
Six years ago, Governor Rell and the City of East Hartford spent nearly $30 million to get Carbala’s to build a 200,000 square foot store in East Hartford. Jobs, increased tax revenue and an anchor tenant for a major new retail and housing project were among the promised benefits.
Thus, taxpayers “paid” about $120,000 for each new job, most of which pay just over minimum wage, the town has received virtually no additional tax revenue and there has been no additional construction on the site.
Two months ago, in July, Governor Malloy and Mayor Bill Finch cut a deal with Bass Pro to open a store and anchor a new project in Bridgeport. There is still no word on the size of the public subsidy, but the message from elected officials was Bass Pro will create jobs, increase revenue and attract other business to the area.
One can debate the efficacy of this type of economic development policy, but it’s what happened next that really says something about the health of our democracy.
A month after the big Bass Pro announcement, on Wednesday, August 8th, 2012, Mayor Bill Finch’s Chief of Staff, Adam Wood, sent out an email to a broad range of government and business leaders blasting the Connecticut Post and claiming the newspaper was “hurtful to all of our efforts to improve our city.”
The subject line of Wood’s email read; “A message to Bridgeport leaders regarding CT Post coverage–inaccurate and misleading–A call to action.”
His diatribe included a direct attack on one of the Connecticut Post’s columnists, Keila Torres, who had recently written a piece critical of the way the Mayor and City Council had framed the up-coming ballot question that seeks to trick voters into changing the city charter to do away with the democratically elected board of education, and instead, allow the mayor the simply appoint the board.
However, the real issue that set Finch’s aide off was his belief that the Connecticut Post had been unfairly attacking Bass Pro Shops and the Malloy/Finch’s plan to bring the store to the Bridgeport. At the front end of the effort to woo Bass Pro to Bridgeport, Adam Wood had actually flown to Las Vegas to meet with corporate officials.
To frame the rationale for a “call to action” against the Connecticut Post, Wood claimed that, “Just this summer (the mayor) announced Bass Pro Shops as the anchor tenant at Steel Point and was hammered by the Connecticut Post with 9 negative articles in a row.”
Actually, a detailed review of the Connecticut Post’s archive indicates that Wood is totally incorrect.
There were never 9 negative articles in a row “hammering” Bass Pro. There were a series of positive articles when the plan was announced. Later there were four articles related to the fact that the federal government was suing Bass Pro because the company refused to hire Blacks and Latinos and a couple of articles that were related to the controversy surrounding Bass Pro’s role as a major retailer of guns in the United States.
Throughout the time frame, there were also some editorial pieces, most were primarily positive but some did raise these more controversial issues.
To reach the magic number 9, Wood is either counting letters to the editor or more likely, a number of national stories that did, in fact, mention Bass Pro, but had nothing to do with Bridgeport.
Those stories were not written by the Connecticut Post, but picked up by the Associated Press. The Connecticut Post and virtually every other paper in the United States ran those stories. And that was because they were stories about the Colorado movie theater massacre.
These national stories mentioned Bass Pro because in May, after purchasing a Glock pistol at one store, the movie theater killer purchased a shotgun from a Bass Pro Shop in Denver, Colorado that he used in the assault. A few days later, the killer purchased an AR-15 assault rifle at a different store, and then, the next day returned to the first Bass Pro Shop to purchase another Glock handgun. All the purchases were legal under federal and state law.
But, putting aside why Finch’s aide was upset is the bigger question of what happened after he sent out his email.
Upon receiving the email from the Mayor’s Office, the President of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council sent an email out to his board saying, “One of the key needs of any city that is working hard to build its tax base, grow jobs, and improve its image, is to have as much positive media coverage as is possible… The Connecticut POST is one of the key sources of local news, and, therefore, it plays a key role in helping to mold the image and perception of the city.”
“Certainly the POST has a journalistic obligation to report the news, and report it accurately. It also has on obligation–as a taxpaying, job generating, member of the community–to be a partner with us in economic development and image enhancement…,” added the business leader.
He concluded with, “My ask of you is to–when you get a chance and by whatever method you choose–let the POST know of your commitment to Bridgeport and to let the POST know of your desire to increase the level of positive news for the city.”
Okay, so the Mayor and his aide are upset that the newspaper isn’t writing positive enough stories about Bass Pro, the Mayor’s aide sends out a “call for action,” the head of the business community then diplomatically asks his members to “let the POST know of your desire to increase the level of positive news for the city.”
And the response? When the President of Bridgeport Hospital, Bill Jennings, gets the email, he writes back saying, “I support this and will assist in delivering the message. The pile-on regarding Bass Pro is not only counter productive, but despicable. And represents a new low.”
Despicable? A new low?
What exactly is despicable and a new low?
In their capacity as public officials and business leaders, do they think it is “despicable” and “a new low,” for a newspaper, working under the protections of the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution, to cover ALL the issues surrounding a proposed government action?
Is it despicable that the Connecticut Post reported that Bass Pro was being sued by the United States Government, after a two-year exhaustive investigation, that found Bass Pro refused to hire black and Latinos at most of its stores?
Or is it despicable that the Connecticut Post covered community concern about whether there would be an increase in violence if a major new gun seller moved into the city.
The Connecticut Post ran editorials and columns, the majority of which seemed to support the Bass Pro project.
So their problem seems to be the “news” and not the “commentary” part of the paper.
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems pretty scary and dangerous when elected officials and their staff, along with business and community leaders, start calling for “action” against newspapers, or suggesting that what is clearly reasonable news coverage is, in fact, “despicable,”
Next the President of Bridgeport Hospital will be writing that it is despicable that the Connecticut Post is covering the extent of safety violations and medical mistakes at his hospital.
For more check out Only In Bridgeport Post http://onlyinbridgeport.com/wordpress/mayors-office-issues-call-to-action-against-connecticut-post-wood-takes-post-to-woodshed-for-inaccurate-and-misleading-coverage/