"The Star" endorses partisanship, not free speech

Update! 4/3/2013

The Star finally posted my comment!  Thank you, Mr. Mertes! It says it was posted on 1:05 pm on Fri, Mar 22, 2013 (when I wrote it) but I sent an email on 3/25 asking why he didn't publish it and kept checking periodically & it still wasn't there...I think the last time I checked was late last week. Still no response to my email, though.  I won't hold my breath on that one.

But the more compelling update is that BOTH progressive candidates - Dave Carlson and Andrea Gage - won seats on the Sun Prairie City Council, proving once again that when voters have a choice in our community, they choose the progressive candidate! Congratulations!  Here's to moving forward, and with better, more open dialogue!

The following is a letter I felt compelled to send to my local paper, the Sun Prairie Star, when its editor, Christopher Mertes, not only failed to publish a fairly innocuous comment I posted on an endorsement on its website, but entered a public squabbling match - insulting and threatening to silence - those who dared to disagree with him on the paper's facebook page.  He then issued a disturbing tirade against an excellent informational public service interview by Dane County Supervisor Nick Zweifel with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers and our own Sun Prairie School District administrator, Dr. Tim Culver, to which Nick Zweifel has responded here and to which Mertes responded on his personal blog here.  [Note that the paper has endorsed Don "An Unhired Gun in Every School" Pridemore for Superintendent, and our community's elected school board stands strongly against increased public funding to unaccountable and unproven voucher programs].  I find this behavior unbefitting of the editor of our town's only news outlet, and I make public my invitation to Mr. Mertes to take seriously the call for more balanced - and less reactionary - forum for coverage of local issues and events.  Our community deserves better.  This sort of strong-arming of oppositional views has no place in America, much less Sun Prairie.  I would hope that those who agree that we need to be respectful of the views of all of our citizens will let Mr. Mertes know where they stand as well.


Why I don't subscribe to the many hypocrisies of The Star
To appreciate the full irony of this bullying, see the endorsement in question.
Dear Chris,

Am I banned from commenting online at The Star (something I very rarely do)?  What is your policy for moderating comments there? I posted the comment (pasted below) on City Council President Zach Weber's endorsement of Steve Villand many days ago and it still has not appeared. The comment clearly takes issue with Mr. Weber's (and the paper's) endorsement, but I don't see any reason why you wouldn't publish it, especially considering you already posted my letter of support for Dave Carlson and Andrea Gage.

It seems you've taken to disparaging SPARC (Sun Prairie Action Resource Coalition, a grassroots group I'm closely involved with) as leftist ideologues and party players in this latest election cycle (both in your endorsement piece and in your comment on the education interview posted by County Supervisor Nick Zweifel), but the fact is, SPARC is a non-partisan coalition of locally-focused people with a wide range of political views.  While many of us support candidates independently, our only hope as a group is that people pay attention and look at all the information out there on the candidates to make informed personal decisions that fit their own goals for the community.  [Our focus is on public service events, information sharing, and filling needs in the community (like with our upcoming SnackSmart School Snack Drive)]. Many of us are not even Democrats, but do tend (like the rest of our community) to vote for the candidates we feel best reflect our own values.  Further, our group is not only concerned with engaging people in paying attention to local politics and elections; we have a much broader mission that seeks to address issues that matter to all of us and to build bridges across partisan divides.  I know there are many in our community who welcome this intervention into the local political discourse and recognize the need for it.

I appreciate, then, that The Star has covered SPARC community forums and events, and am a bit confused as to why you've begun to point fingers at the group, which does not endorse candidates, even if its members often have strong positions on who would best serve our community. 

I am really troubled by your bans of commenters who don't share your views (most notably your most formidable ideological rival, Eric Basile - who really deserves a regular column in the paper - and now I see you're publicly threatening to ban him from commenting on facebook, too), and your dismissive and disrespectful comments to people like my good friend and local volunteer Barb Muse (seriously? just because she lives in Bristol she shouldn't care about Sun Prairie?  She's here every day!).  Your reactionary replies come across like schoolyard retorts; they demean the paper and make it clear that you truly do not welcome differing perspectives. And your willingness to ban people from commenting makes the paper come across more like your personal blog than the award-winning news source it once was.

One of the reasons I wanted to get involved with a group like SPARC was because many of us feel silenced in our community by a local paper that not only doesn't reflect our editorial perspective, but actively asserts control over limiting who can say what in our community.  I would hope that The Star would welcome some differing positions, rather than squelch them.  Doing so makes your paper look like a propaganda outlet rather than a hometown paper.  I understand that the paper is owned by the Knox family, whose contributions to the Republican party are well documented, but that doesn't mean that you should abandon your professional obligation to support freedom of the press, and recognize the rights of members of our community to exercise freedom of speech and expression.

You have the opportunity in the pages of your paper to open up real dialogue about issues people in our community care about.  You could do this in a way that unites people, by giving equal space and respect to both sides, or you can continue to play an active role in dividing our community by trying to silence those with whom you do not agree (who happen to be the majority of the community, if we go by our voting history).  I invite you to take the high road by focusing on the issues rather than resorting to disparaging individual members of the community, and I offer my voice if you ever want to consider a point/counterpoint forum or need suggestions for community members who might be able to provide differing views on the issues that matter to all of us. 

I hope you'll publish the original comment, and I hope that you'll reconsider use of these heavy-handed tactics that prevent The Star from serving our community effectively.

Heather DuBois Bourenane

And for what it's worth, here's the original comment that didn't make it through the "moderation" process (I'd copied it in anticipation of not seeing it posted, which is sad enough in itself). The comment responds to Mr. Weber's assertion that Andrea Gage is too "partisan" a candidate, while failing to acknowledge his earlier endorsement of another, highly partisan, candidate on the right:

This appeal to non-partisanship would be much easier to accept had Mr. Weber not also endorsed Republican Trish Schaefer, in the Distict 4 race against moderate Dave Carlson. While Schaefer has not accepted party endorsements, her campaign rhetoric (and attempts to smear supporters of her opponent) make her real agenda clear. Those of us who followed her unsuccessful campaign against Representative Gary Hebl last fall are well aware of how far to the right she stands, and her attempts to disguise her politics for this nonpartisan race seem disingenuous and misleading, as does Mr. Weber's attempt here to appeal to "nonpartisan" governance.
I agree that partisan politics should not play a major role in local government, but I also think we need candidates who will stand up for local values and be proactive in engaging the community. I am a resident of district 2 and I like Andrea Gage's agenda: it involves getting people more involved and a community-focused approach to local governance, something I think we could improve on.
I would hope that Mr. Weber would also welcome some change on the Council so that a more diverse cross-section of our community was represented at City Hall. Whatever the outcome of the race, I hope that partisan bickering and insular government is not on anyone's "agenda."


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