Thursday, November 1, 2007

Editor forced out after candidates complain

Les Mahler, editor of the Benicia Herald, says he has been suspended after writing a column that angered two candidates in next week's City Council election, according to a report in today's Vallejo Times Herald.

Mahler's column last Thursday quoted an anonymous letter criticizing City Council candidate Scott Strawbridge's campaign ads. In what the Vallejo paper said was a widely circulated e-mail, Mahler claimed that Strawbridge and mayoral candidate Bill Whitney went to the Benicia paper's offices Friday "looking for my head" and wanting an apology.

The two candidates confirmed to the Vallejo paper that they had a meeting at the Benicia Hearld on Friday. Ad manager Pam Poppe and Publisher David Payne did not return the Vallejo Time Herald's calls for comment.

Sunday, the Benicia paper (which is not online) printed a retraction of Mahler's column, saying the editor violated policy by publishing an unsigned letter and attacking a candidate's position.

Tuesday, Strawbridge paid to have the retraction reprinted as a half-page advertisement.

Mahler said his immediate fate is up in the air, as he has cancer and was scheduled to go on disability leave this month. Mahler said the Herald was "infringing on his freedom of speech," and that he was justified in using parts of the letter in his column. A Benicia resident is organizing a boycott of the paper because of Mahler's suspension, the Vallejo paper says.


Les Mahler said...

It's more complicated. Whitney, who was invited by Strawbridge, demanded that I stop printing all letters in support of his opponent. He also demanded that I stop running long letters to the editor supporting his opponent in the mayor's race. My response, I can't help it if you can't muster your forces to write letters. As for trimming letters, this is still a community newspaper and the only voice for the readers.
As for the unsigned letter being published. It was a personal letter to me, and I used only two paragraphs to make my point. Plus, this was a personal column with the closing statement saying that the opinions and expressions in this column are mine and mine alone.
Also, the Benicia Herald's policy on criticizing officials is like Swiss cheese; prior to Thursday's column I wrote a column criticizing the mayor. And recently, I criticized school board trustees in their hiring of the new Benicia High School principal. Neither the publisher nor the advertising manager said anything against that. And in past columns I've criticized US Senator Dianne Feinstein and former state Senator Jackie Speier. So, why the change in policy?

In the end, I asked them both if what I had written in my column was different than what was written in letters to the editor? They both said no. And I asked them, then why are we here? Strawbridge, who is running for city council, said he only wanted an apology, which he got on page 2. But it was unsigned. I refused to sign it.

And yes, I have been diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma. but not of the salivary glands. This tumor was found behind my right eye, on the tear gland. And that's another part of the story because I had been writing about my tumor and cancer since May, which was when the tumor was first discovered. So, after my surgery to remove the tumor, I write another column and suddenly I'm told I have to stop writing about my cancer. Huh?

Anonymous said...

Looks like it's a little more than a "suspension":

Newspaper Editor (immediate opening) (vallejo / benicia)

The Benicia Herald is seeking an experienced editor for a daily (5 days a week) newspaper. The Herald covers local news in Benicia and Solano County. Applicant must be a strong copy editor and headline writer; proficiency in the AP Style is crucial. The position also calls for layout/pagination of several editorial pages. Experience in Quark and Photoshop (using a Mac) is a must.

Send resume, references and links to published articles to PDFs of layout samples are also required. If none are available, you'll need to bring a portfolio to interview. No phone calls, please.

DO NOT APPLY unless you can provide proof of experience.