Chamber President Steve Howard and the H-T editorial board's reactions to City Councilman Andy Ruff's impolitic slip of the tongue with a student journalist last week calls to mind a phrase from the past, "the pot calling the kettle black."
On April 8, Howard e-mailed his board and executive committee a copy of an Indiana Daily Student article, highlighting a section in which Andy refers to INDOT Commissioner J. Brian Nicol as a "twerp" and a "punk." Calling for a "civil, productive community dialogue" on I-69, Howard offered his minions dictionary definitions of the terms that included "insignificant and contemptible" and "prostitute." Precisely on cue, two days later, the H-T editors called Andy's word choice "grade school caliber name-calling."
Howard vowed that the Chamber "will continue to choose our words carefully, to be truthful, and to be respectful of the points of view of all persons." The editors admonished Andy for his rhetoric, which they said "does nothing but enhance Bloomington's reputation as a place where immature, unreasonable people run the government. It badly undermines the idea of civil dialogue and leads to polarization."
The only rational response to these paternalistic displays of self-righteous indignation from dues-paying members of the I-69 cabal has to be: "Does anyone take these guys seriously?" Given their well-documented records on the subject, the Chamber and the H-T editors might want to pull out the Webster's Unabridged one more time and look up hypocrisy: "a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not possess."
They might dig out the H-T microfilms from Sept. 19, 2002, and read the Region section article on a news conference called by, among others, Bloomington Hardware owner and Chamber board member Vickie Temple. That was six weeks before the 2002 county election, which featured a slate of progressive Democrats Brian O'Neill, Mark Stoops, Lucille Bertuccio, and Bill Hayden running for commissioner and council seats.
At that news conference, Temple and fellow businesswoman Debbie Lemon Sibbit decried the "incivility" and "shout-down" tactics they said had infected local political discourse. Sibbit, a self-proclaimed "lifelong Democrat," said she would not support her party's commissioner and council candidates. The article concludes:
"Temple did not endorse the GOP slate or any specific candidates, noting that 'I think we have some good Democrats, too.' She said her main goal was to see voters become informed on the issues, 'to listen to the facts, not emotion, and make sure they vote on Sept. 5. If we are to remember Sept. 11 in any way, it needs to be on Nov. 5,' she said."
It could be argued that the incivility implicit in this linking of progressive candidates to the worst terrorist act in our nation's history was a little over the editorial board's heads. But it would seem that even they would recognize the blatant incivility of the following statements about County Councilman Scott Wells, leveled by people using pseudonyms, which appeared on their H-T online message board.
3/23/02 From: Chainsaw "Scott Wells is a total hypocrite." 4/30/02 From: Tree Cutter "Scott Wells! You are a hypocrite! And every time you get on your soap box and start preaching about the law and the ordinances, I am going to knock you off it! Your thorn in the flesh!" 5/8/02 From: Tree Cutter "Scott can not tell the truth he has sinned again!" 5/25/02 From: motor city madman "Scott Well's, thinks he is God!"
At no time did the editors condemn these attacks against Wells as uncivil. In the weeks following the arson fire at developer Steve Smith's under-construction home on Pedigo Bay, they sat mum as the rhetoric escalated on the message board.
6/28/02 From: Tree cutter "Scott Wells should be the #1 suspect!" 6/28/02 From: Tree cutter "If Scott did not do this I bet he knows the people that did!" 7/17/02 From: motor city madman "I didn't know terrorism was part of the job description for an elected official." 7/21 From: Tree cutter "... scott wells is a predator." 9/11/02 From: Tree cutter "I support property rights, not idiots like scott wells That drum up fake charges on good people."
The H-T editors did not remove these postings until the day after Wells' attorney David Colman introduced them as evidence of how his client had been libeled on the H-T's Web site. Wells is suing those who posted these and dozens more messages for defamation.
Libel, according to the Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary , is "a. a defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gesture, b. the crime of publishing it."
While they have their dictionaries out, Mr. Howard and the editors should look up double standard: "any code or set of principles containing different provisions for one group of people than for another..."
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative.