Mainstream Journo Penning Election Reform Column Has Article Rejected for First Time in Career!
By Brad Friedman on 5/4/2005, 11:52pm PT  

What began innocently enough with a watershed article several weeks ago by Tribune Media Service's Robert Koehler on the need for Election Reform and an investigation into the results of Election 2004, has now erupted into a full-fledged firestorm resulting Wednesday afternoon in the unprecedented rejection of Koehler's latest column by the higher-ups at TMS where Koehler is both a columnist and editor!

Tribune Media Services is the syndication arm of the Tribune Company which, in turn, is the parent company to the Chicago Tribune.

Koehler's original ground-breaking column from April --- the first by an American Mainstream Media journalist that we know of to out-and-out charge that the 2004 Election was stolen --- was written a few days after Koehler attended the National Election Reform Conference last month in Nashville. The piece was headlined "The Silent Scream of Numbers: The 2004 election was stolen — will someone please tell the media?"

He followed it up the next week with another stunner headlined "Democracy's Abu Ghraib — If they can disable an election, what's coming next?"

While both pieces were distributed via TMS to syndicate member newspapers, only a handful chose to run either of those two columns.

Most notably, however, despite Chicago Tribune itself having chosen to run neither column, their "Public Editor", Don Wycliffe, found it appropriate to write a column in the Trib's pages wherein he rebutted Koehler's original piece. Wycliff's rebuttal, as reported here previously, attempted to discredit Koehler's column, Koehler himself, and those of us who might give a damn about democracy and the responsibility that the people (and yes, that would include the media) have to remain vigilant in order to sustain it.

Wycliff's column, citing the "moral example" of Richard Nixon (yes, not kidding) as the figure whom Americans ought to follow in regards to potentially stolen elections, has erupted in a torrent of email directed towards the misguided and/or misinformed Wycliff and in support of Koehler.

Koehler once again hits a home-run with this week's column in response to Wycliff's. Or at least he would have had the Masters of Tribune Media Services not killed the article for the first time in Koehler's career!...

As Koehler explained to The BRAD BLOG this evening, not only is this the first time that he's had a column spiked by the higher-ups at TMS, it's the first time they've even bothered to have one of his columns "shown around" to determine it's appropriateness before it went out!

Koehler took pains to point out that his managing editor, Mary Elson, has been extremely supportive of his work on both his latest and past columns and was, in fact, the one who gave him the okay to attend the conference in Nashville in the first place. It was that conference which apparently opened his eyes to the crime against democracy which seems to have occured last November. Actually examining the evidence will do that to a fellow.

The unprecedented decision to spike his piece, it seems, came not from Elson, but from higher up on the TMS food chain late this afternoon, just hours before deadline.

After he was told the piece would not be syndicated, Koehler quickly cobbled together a replacement column with quotes drawn from the mountain of Email he has received since this entire affair began.

The spiked column, headlined "Citizens in the Rain — Maybe we can't have election reform without media reform", which will not apparently be distributed at all via Tribune Media Services (Hey, Mr. Wycliff! Sounds like you may have another great opportunity to write a rebuttal!) is now available only via Koehler's personal website at CommonWonders.com.

The higher-ups who spiked the column claimed that Koehler's response to Wycliff was somehow too "personal". Though having read it --- and having read Wycliff's direct response to Koehler's original column --- we find that pill a bit hard to swallow.

In an email earlier today in which he shared an advance of his now-spiked column, Koehler generously writes:

Note on the strange fate of this column: It won't be going out as my regular syndicated column this week, because it was thought to be too much of a personal response to Don Wycliff and therefore not sufficiently national in scope; I will post the column on my website, however (http://www.commonwonders.com). While at first I thought this might be censorship, that doesn't seem to be the case. I was told to keep writing on the issue of election reform and vote fraud, and in fact I will pull another column together this week based on reader mail on this issue, sort of an "editor's mailbag," so maybe that will be OK. At least people's voices on this issue will find expression through my column. --- Bob

As to the piece so "personal" and "not sufficiently national in scope" that it dare not show itself via Tribune Media Services (remember, his columns are sent out to member papers who may choose or not to run them), it is again another important piece of work.

We hope you'll read the entire column on Koehler's website once it's generally available since it makes several important points. (It's now available here.)

Here's just one or two that are spot on and a notable rebuttal to those who claim (as Wycliff did in his piece and in many of the subsequent emails he's been sending in response to angry emailers) that because Kerry conceded, neither Journalists nor Americans in general should care about who may have actually won the 2004 Presidential Election. On that point, Koehler writes:

Isn't our democracy at stake? Doesn't that matter?

"If John Kerry and the Ohio Democratic Party and all the other folks who had the most to gain from the election were making this challenge, I would get interested. But when the people with the most at stake don't step up, I'm suspicious."

So Don Wycliff, the Chicago Tribune's public editor, wrote to me in an e-mail exchange a few days ago, explaining why he, if not the Tribune itself, had no intention of investigating the issue with any seriousness.
...
Of all my objections to what he wrote, his contention that Kerry has the most at stake in all this is the most dispiriting, and most reflects the wrongheaded, "horse race" coverage of elections the media have shoved down our throats for as long as I can remember.

In his column, Wycliff even used a sports analogy, pointing out that "it's not the pregame prognostication and expert opinions that count, but the numbers on the scoreboard after the contest has actually been played." The Bush team won; the Kerry team lost. And the voters must be the equivalent of sports fans then, either jubilant or disappointed when the game is over, but couch potatoes either way, not participants.

Anyone else just a little bit offended?

Yes, Bob. We are. More than a little bit. But we're used to it. Welcome to our 21st Century American Nightmare.

Koehler also goes on to mention...

Nearly a week after Wycliff's column ran, the Tribune has printed only one letter in response to it --- and this letter was about Nixon. It didn't have a word to say about the 2004 election. So much for my naïve optimism that an actual debate would ensue on the pages of the Trib.

Those of us who've been at this game a bit longer than Koehler are likely not as surprised as he is, what with a fair amount of our naïve optimism having been burned away months ago.

In any case, the naïve optimism still burns eternal enough that we hope the Chicago Tribune might find it somewhere within themselves to become the advocates for the people they are supposed to be, and run --- at the very least --- the original Koehler column which Wycliff rebutted and now the one that TMS has spiked in response to Wycliff's piece that they did choose to run. We do still have enough naïve optimism left to believe that 6 or 7 of you out there might send email encouraging them to do so (see bottom of this item for Contact information).

At the end of Koehler's piece comes the heart breaking finale, and perhaps an appropriate epitaph for democracy as Koehler's common wonders lead him to question if we will ever see the media in this country ever give a damn again:

How do we make them care? How do we make them look for themselves? How do we make them stand outside with us in the rain, waiting to cast our ballot for democracy?

We don't know. But we will keep at it and trust that Koehler will as well. He has told us that he plans on it.

To that end, Koehler appeared on the premiere episode of our radio show several weeks ago (the MP3 archive of that interview is here) and he has also agreed to appear this Saturday Night again on The BRAD SHOW to update us on all of the latest hullaballoo.

We have invited Wycliff to give his side of the story on air as well --- either with or without Koehler. We are still awaiting Wycliff's reply.

...CONTACTS...

Tribune Media Services Contact Page
Robert Koehler, Editor/Columnist/American Hero

Chicago Tribune Contact Page
Ann Marie Lipinski, Editor
R. Bruce Dold, Editorial Page Editor
James O'Shea, Managing Editor
N. Don Wycliff, Public Editor