05 May 2007

A Manufactured Correction

In the May 3, 2007 edition of the Columbia Flier, Barbara Russell wrote a letter to the editor (Party endorsement in village election sets bad precedent) that begins as follows:

I am writing to correct a statement that was attributed to me in the Columbia Flier's coverage of the recent election for Columbia Council representative for Oakland Mills. The April 26 article "New wave on CA board" indicated that I agreed that the endorsement of my opponent sent out by the county executive, the County Council chairman, a delegate to the General Assembly and a former county councilman who was appointed to his current position with the county by the county executive -- all leaders of the county Democratic Party -- was not political. I did not say that.

Reading the above paragraph, most would sympathize with Barbara. However, it should be noted that Barbara Russell’s statement above combines two sentences from two different paragraphs from the article in question. For reference, I have provided the text of the article below, and have added in bold face the two sentences that Barbara Russell references.

Russell, who had not faced an opponent since 2001, was re-elected to an eighth one-year term in Oakland Mills, defeating Ian Kennedy, 302-193.

Russell won despite Kennedy's extensive list of endorsements from Columbia Democrats County Executive Ken Ulman, Del. Guy Guzzone and Howard County Council Chairman Calvin Ball. "I got the endorsement that I want and that is the endorsement of the people of the village," Russell said.

Last October Russell, a registered Democrat, crossed party lines and endorsed Republican Christopher Merdon for county executive against Ulman. But according to Russell and the politicians, the endorsements had nothing to do with county politics.

The first bolded sentence refers to the endorsement of Barbara Russell’s opponent, Ian Kennedy. In this paragraph, reporter Andrei Blakely quotes her directly. In my opinion, her quote in this paragraph is a brash, dismissive statement of a person that has won an election.

The second bolded statement is in a paragraph recounting Barbara Russell’s endorsement of Christopher Merdon for County Executive. Barbara is quoted indirectly here, but the statement appears to be in keeping with statements made last fall regarding her endorsement for County Executive.

What Barbara Russell’s motive was to write the letter is only for her to answer; however, it appears that Barbara Russell, having won the election to be a CA Board Member (and recently appointed Chair of the Board of Directors, kudos Barbara!) either deliberately selected parts of the article to artificially make her point or did not take the time to read the content of the article.

In the balance of her letter to the editor, Barbara Russell opens up her argument to the general case and goes on to say:

[t]his is not about the past election as much as it is about future elections. This is the first time in my memory that leaders of a major political party have joined together to affect the outcome of a local village community association election. I think that sets a bad precedent. The community association elections have been non-partisan in terms of the major political parties and I strongly believe they should remain that way.

While I respect the right of any individual to endorse or support a candidate for any elective office -- and as an individual I have done so myself -- I believe that the residents of Columbia's villages and the Columbia Association itself are not well served by political party endorsements or the appearance of political party endorsements. And, judging by the comments I have received from my constituents, I believe there are many people who agree with this position.

If Barbara Russell is committed to this point of democratic leader interference in Village elections, why the omission of State Delegate Liz Bobo (D)? The Liz Bobo endorsement is raised in the same Columbia Flier article. As a former Howard County Councilperson, former County Executive, and long tenured state delegate, isn’t State Delegate Liz Bobo THE democratic party leader in this county? Given that those who endorsed Barbara Russell’s opponent did so as private citizens, and Delegate Liz Bobo chose to use state funded resources to issue her endorsement, wouldn’t this be an even more egregious “bad precedent?”

In closing, I am also at a loss as to why the Columbia Flier would publish such a letter to the editor. As I have shown, Barbara Russell appears to have selected quotes (and omitted others) from different parts of the news article referenced to make her point. I would think the editors would stand by their staff’s reporting.


FreeMarket said...

This is a great analysis. She downright misrepresented the article that she “corrected”.

Anonymous said...

I think you may have missed a subtle, but important, detail in the portions of the article she referenced.

The first bolded statement says "endorsements" (plural). The second bolded statement says "endorsements" (plural). You mention that second bolded statement is in a paragraph that recounts her "endorsement" (singular) of Mr. Merdon. However, isn't it possible the author's comments in the remainder of that paragraph weren't speaking exclusively about her endorsement? The plurality of "endorsements" would indicate so.

It seems plausible that, because the article said "endorsements" (plural), the article's author was indeed referring to either a) the endorsements (plural) by Messrs. Ulman, Guzzone, and Ball of Mr. Kennedy or b) those gentlemen's endorsements as well as her endorsement of Mr. Merdon. Further muddying the waters, if it was b), was the author saying c) all the politicians and Ms. Russell said their own endorsements of others weren't political or was the author saying d) all the politicians and Ms. Russell said both their and the other endorsements mentioned in the article weren't political?

Any of those being the case, I hope you can agree with her assertion that the article errantly, just reading that second bolded statement, indicated she agreed the endorsements (plural) of Mr. Kennedy by Messrs. Ulman, Guzzone, and Ball wasn't political. Please note she used the word "indicated" and not "said" when referring to the article. Perhaps she should have used the word "clarify" instead of "correct" as the article may not have been wrong, but interpreting that second bolded statement was certainly left up to the reader. As such, the editors, I feel, rightly allowed Ms. Russell to respond in greater detail.

As for propriety of any individuals or groups making endorsements in elections, I think it's proper for anyone to do so, so long as there is proper understanding of who is doing the endorsing and why. Being active in their communities and serving as a benchmark for "if you liked my policies enough to elect me then you might trust who I trust too", I would be kind of surprised if public office holders didn't give such endorsements more often.

Anonymous said...

It was disappointing that a “leader”, as Chair of the CA Board, would rehash pre election campaigning, especially after she did the same thing less than a year ago and has done so in the past. The bigger question is why so many who have worked with her and know her, including her current Board Chair and Vice-Chair, would not support her.

That says more than party affiliation.

Anonymous said...

I think this post-election letter is indicative of Russell’s attitude and leadership style. She is not a collaborator and rarely focuses on the positive.

I don’t think it serves her constituents to attack others in County and State government when they should be working together for her community. When is the last time a candidate, win or lose, wrote a letter like this AFTER an election.

Poor Form and not a good start to a Chair post :-(

Anonymous said...

Actually quite good form and a firm response to provocation.

(And to set the record straight, Bobo used e-mail, which cost the state nothing in her message.)

And to call Russell's statement that she cares more about the voters endorsement than that of party bigwigs shows she has her priorities on straight! Kudos to her for being dismissive...of partisan intrusion into a non-partisan election.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 12:30:
The point is not how much the e-mail cost the state. The point is that Bobo used state resources to campaign in a non-partisan campaign. How can you ignore that while at the same time accusing Ulman and the others, who did not use government resources, of provocation?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 16:30, the point is that the Delegate abused State resources to interfere in the internal affairs of a private corporation.

Anonymous said...

You can blast BR all you want. She's gone to Hawaii for 2 months.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 19:48, since CA can affect County and State expenditures (such as CA's existence taking a big burden off County Rec and Parks or CA's actions relative to proposals significantly increasing Columbia's density affecting demands for County and State funds for schools, transportation, emergency services, sewage, etc. to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars), it's well within the purview of any citizen of the County or State to simply comment on the leadership of CA.

A state legislator, being sworn to work for the welfare of the State and regularly seeing first hand how the actions of private corporations can affect our tax burdens and costs and quality of living, may even have more of an obligation to comment on such occasions.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:50, if that were true, the state wouldn't have ethics laws to prevent it.

Anonymous said...

Laws that prevent what? Would you please specifically cite which law(s) you believe apply?

Anonymous said...

An Ulman endorsement is not a good thing. Even the most partisan Dems I know don't respect the guy. They simply refrain from publicly criticizing him.