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My View: ‘Biased,’ ‘No 1st Amendment,’ ‘censors’ – strong words

It’s not every day I see my name on a sign at a demonstration in front of The Durango Herald. This was the case on Sept. 12, when about 20 demonstrators, including La Plata County Republican Central Committee leadership, urged a boycott of the Herald, citing “biased” reporting with “No 1st Amendment” on a sign with a line slashed through it.

The sign in my honor, held by local GOP chair Shelli Shaw, said “Ann Marie censors conservatives.” Well, if you want to get the attention of journalists, throw around loosely and carelessly the words “censors” and “1st Amendment” and “biased.”

Reporter Tyler Brown wasn’t spared either. Tyler had covered the event hosting chairwoman for the El Paso County Moms for Liberty chapter Darcy Schoening on Sept. 5 at the nonpartisan Veterans for Foreign Wars Post 4031. The sign dedicated to him said, “Biased Tyler Brown, False & Misleading Information!”

Please, read Tyler’s story and let us know if you see biased reporting, https://www.durangoherald.com/articles/la-plata-county-republicans-host-moms-for-liberty-speaker/.

Tyler and I have very different roles. Tyler strictly reports the news. Our departments are separate and I am certainly not his editor, but I will say Tyler did a fine job reporting – fairly – the situation and capturing the scene, to include demonstrators outside, as well as interviewing Schoening in the few minutes he was allowed access to her.

For anyone engaging a reporter, here’s a tip for the best shot at coverage. Allow more than a few minutes for an interview. Don’t ask a reporter to write questions on a notecard to put in a box to be reviewed later. Chances are, the reporter has a pressing deadline. Still, Tyler is a professional and walked away with decent quotes.

MFL, a conservative group focused on education, has drawn controversy for its views on the LGBTQ community, critical race theory and “woke” ideology, and attempted book bans in school libraries. It’s our jobs – Tyler’s to report, mine to editorialize – on an MFL guest in Durango.

We would be remiss if we didn’t do this.

Also, in talking briefly with demonstrators at the Herald while handing out my business cards, a few said the crowd at VFW was less than “about 100” demonstrators and more than “about 70” inside to hear Schoening speak. They were riled up over these figures.

Later, I looked at photographer Jerry McBride’s images and we counted people in attendance. It appears there were likely even more than 100 demonstrators, with a handful wrapped around the east side of the building, away from the street. Possibly, more than 70 could have been inside – 80 or 83-ish – but they might be protesters, too. Figures are ballpark. It’s a general, dynamic count with people moving in and out.

If demonstrators’ concern is that MFL was more popular than represented, a handful or 10 extra won’t make much difference. If they claimed the crowd was closer to 300 people, that’s something else.

Back to that sign with my name on it. I write most of our editorials, or opinion pieces, which take a particular stance. For those confused between editorials and news stories, editorials tackle issues, and formulate viewpoints based on objective analyses of happenings and conflicting/contrary opinions. Yes, editorials stir up things. The intention is to get community members thinking and talking.

In our letters to the editor section, it’s my responsibility to stoke – and deliver – thoughtful discourse. Note, in our letters box on our Opinion pages, and online in our request and criteria for letters, the words, “We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity, and to eliminate libelous or tasteless material.” There’s discretion in the word “tasteless” and that discretion – that call and the responsibility that comes with it – is mine. I also ask for opinions in letters based in fact. This is basic and standard for a reputable newspaper. Asking for letter writers to meet this is not censorship.

Sure, facts can be spun. But I ask for a reasonable reach for the truth, while giving letter writers a wide berth to express thoughts and feelings.

Local GOP leadership delivered a letter to the Herald that said: “There is consistent bias in the reporting and opinions of your newspaper. Most recently the inaccurate and biased details in the Opinion Editorial regarding the meeting speaker, Darcy Schoening of Moms for Liberty.”

Any factual detail I offered can be easily verified – part of public record – if it’s not readily sourced right there.

Concerning in the GOP’s letter, though, is: “All future La Plata County Republican Party in-person and online events and meetings will be closed to The Durango Herald until further notice. This includes, but is not limited to, the upcoming Lincoln Day Dinner event on September 23, 2023, at the Sky Ute Casino in Ignacio.”

You can bet, any journalist would test this. Ironically, people who effectively said their First Amendment rights were squashed based on an accurately reported news story and opinion – our own First Amendment right – are banning journalists who ultimately report to the public.

And do you know the group accused nationwide of censorship? Mothers for Liberty.

How do moderate Republicans in our community feel about all this?

Meanwhile, keep your letters coming.

We never condone disinformation. But if your letters don’t meet the Herald’s criteria, you have the option of your own social platforms. Varying viewpoints in the letters section are welcome. I do, though, work for The Durango Herald. Not The Durango Enquirer.

Ann Marie Swan is Opinion Editor at The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez. This column represents her views alone and not those of the editorial board’s.