To Paula, from Reade — A tale of two cities

By Reade Brower | Feb 14, 2019

Several weeks ago, former state Rep. Paula Sutton, R-Warren, penned an “open” letter to Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins. Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily refused it. Instead it ran as an ad, paid for by former state Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, funded by the Republican County Committee. Last week, those papers ran an online poll asking readers whether this letter should or should not be allowed as a letter to the editor.

The letter was printed in “The Buzz” (a newsletter associated with Rockland radio station WRFR’s show “Rockland Metro”), causing one of its hosts, Nate Davis, to resign. Nate disagreed with editor and co-host Joe Steinberger’s decision, saying he “didn’t want to be associated with a publication that gave a platform for such stereotyping and race baiting.” He then asked whether Joe’s thinking would change if the word immigrant was switched with the word Jew; would that change the discussion? Nate asked.

As you read this, the poll results will be available. As I write, I have no idea what those results are. After reading the letter, and an Andy O’Brien follow-up in “The Free Press,” the conclusion drawn was that if I was going to criticize the letter, readers should have the full context, not just quotes or snippets. Paula’s letter appears in this week’s editorial section of the paper, unedited.

A rebuttal of Sutton’s letter was written by O’Brien, titled “Knox County GOP Ad Promotes Man Involved with Right-Wing Paramilitaries.” While Sutton describes her “firsthand” experiences as “unsafe, fearing rape, and a border patrol that was a joke and did not care,” O’Brien paints a different story.

Sutton’s accounts are full of accusations and innuendos. O’Brien cites recollections from a Dallas Observer newspaper article where Sutton’s dad (Joe) referred to immigrants crossing his land as “mojados” (wetbacks) and a 2003 lawsuit where Joe Sutton paid a settlement of $100,000 for his complicity in allowing the group “Ranch Rescue” to use his land to terrorize immigrants trying to enter the country through Sutton’s property.

Paula’s colorful language in her Collins letter, and the language of her father Joe, cited by O’Brien from court documents, including “saliva flying out of his mouth and hitting the plaintiff” while “threatening them with death,” provide different accounts of what happened in that Texas border town.

O’Brien also quoted the Dallas Observer article about the lawsuit, with a neighbor saying, “If you ask me, that man (Sutton) is paranoid.” That neighbor added that most of the people crossing just wanted work; they didn’t want to rape, steal or smuggle drugs. He said he didn’t lock his doors and, though some canned goods would disappear, he was not “overly concerned.”

Andy’s full article: https://freepressonline.com/Content/Download-the-current-issue-as-a-pdf/Features/Article/Knox-County-GOP-Ad-Promotes-Man-Involved-with-Right-Wing-Paramilitaries-/93/78/62900.

This is not Paula’s first controversy with this paper. Days before the 2018 November election, she spearheaded an ad that was accepted and, after its printing, management (me) offered an apology to readers for allowing it, because of its inaccuracies, highly inappropriate graphics, and unfounded accusations. The monies from the ad were donated to a local women’s shelter and we completely revamped policies (or lack thereof) on political advertising. It was only the second time in 35 years an ad was refused (or in this case, run when it shouldn’t have), as censorship is more dangerous than controlling editorial expression.

There are some who still call for someone to get fired over that debacle; as I’ve said, a salesman selling an ad, without proper policy, cannot be held accountable for content.

In the case of Paula Sutton’s letter to Collins, I am not in the camp of Nate Davis; it should run and then be called out by O’Brien, me, or others who think it presents a slanted view of the immigration problem.

Why not start where most agree (we need border security), then use experts' (not politicians') consensus on how best to use fencing, high-technology, more border patrol officers, and better procedures, coupled with full immigration policies that are fair and equitable, and conform to the spirit of our country (we are a land built by immigrants).

Let Paula have her say; she is entitled to her words. How can we judge her without reading them? Her letter to Collins is her story.

Accept it, reject it, or do more research.

Her letter spoke to her base and didn’t change anyone’s mind, on either side. Just like this opinion column preaches to its choir.

We should have faith in readers that, when given both sides, they will figure out where the weight of their foot falls.

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“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” — Charles de Gaulle, French president (1890-1970)

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Bring the discussion to Village Soup online.

Reade Brower can be reached at: reade@freepressonline.com

Disclosure: Reade Brower is owner of these newspapers. The opinions expressed in his columns are his own, and do not represent the newspapers, or their editorial board.

Comments (3)
Posted by: George Terrien | Feb 18, 2019 17:34

Mr. Brower, I hope that you read, think about, and then address my letter to the editor that I just sent to the Village Soup, asking for a report on the new policy implemented by the paper to address responsible reporting and advertising.  Even though I recognize and respect your desire to maintain a hands-off style in your management duties, I strongly agree with Nate that the question here rises far above bare-faced exercise of a "free press", and goes to the heart and purpose of a responsible press that is free--and should be obligated--to report thoughtfully.  Pleas!



Posted by: Reade Brower | Feb 14, 2019 11:45

That is an excellent point Nate and perhaps Paula will respond directly in this forum on her thoughts regarding that specific concern/comment.



Posted by: Nathan Kroms Davis | Feb 14, 2019 07:51

Thanks for quoting me, Reade, regarding the publication of Sutton's letter in The Buzz and giving some context, as well as considering this issue carefully. My question remains, though: If a letter full of innuendo and stereotypes regarding Jews, or African Americans, or another historically marginalized community has been submitted, what do you think would be the proper course of action? The specific scenario I posed in my resignation letter was: "Imagine publishing a piece arguing that the author’s personal experience with money-grubbing, deceitful, selfish Jews with threatening facial expressions and body language had convinced the author of the need to reinstate anti-Jewish quotas. What would we be discussing then, and how would the world react?"



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