Pickard article became about more than Pickard | Publisher's Column

Saturday’s Whidbey News-Times article on Ken Pickard, president to the board for the Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, resulted in some serious backlash this week.

The most vocal response wasn’t from the corner one might expect.

COER’s board of directors responded to the article by calling the article a “hatchet job” and saying they were canceling a scheduled full-page advertisement in the News-Times after deadline.

“Your paper wanted a certain spin on the story,” said COER board member Paula Spina in one of several emails critical of the article.

“The headline, dragging up the old quotes, mentioning that Ken was being interviewed from his boat in California, the photo  — all of it was intended to paint a certain picture,” Spina said in her email.

“You chose the picture and it was derogatory. You chose to do a story on Ken Pickard.”

In actuality, the article on Pickard was on the back burner for a couple of weeks until the reporter could reach him for an interview.

Yes, Pickard was on his boat in San Francisco. The newspaper didn’t send him there, and he didn’t indicate that his location was a secret.

The photo came from our files. They weren’t staged. They showed Pickard wearing headphones and holding a sign that said, “Pardon our deafness, it’s the ‘Sound of Freedom.’” It wasn’t chosen to embarrass Pickard or anyone else. It was chosen because it represented the subject of the article, and because Pickard wasn’t available for a photo shoot.

The reporter received no direction from me or anyone else to “spin” the story in any direction whatsoever. Nor was the reporter told to act as a censor for Pickard, known for being outspoken.

The reporter asked Pickard about some of his more controversial remarks, including those in a June email he sent to the Island County Board of Commissioners urging them to “get some balls,” and, in reference to the Navy, “quit licking their jackboots.”

These quotes are not unreasonably “old.” They relate to the issue. They contain no expiration date. They were submitted to public officials, hardly a secret correspondence.

During his interview with the reporter, Pickard was clear in his understanding that his comments can be seen as controversial and, some might say, divisive. He stood by his opinions and felt no need to apologize.

There was no hatchet job. A retired attorney, Pickard is educated and capable of expressing his opinion as he deems fit.

As I explained to Spina, if the board members of COER have a problem with the opinions of their president, that is an issue for them to address. If they choose to censor Pickard, that is their decision.

Filtering anyone is not the role of the newspaper.

Canceling their ad at the last moment was intended as a punitive act by COER to punish the News-Times.  The size of each edition of the newspaper is determined by the number of ad inches. Each page we produce costs money.

When I shared with Spina and others with COER’s board how I viewed the group’s decision to cancel their ad, COER reversed its decision Tuesday. We made a considerable effort to get it back in.

As a newspaper, we have no interest in being part of the story. The Pickard article was intended to be about the leader of COER.

The COER board made it about much more.


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