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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Donald Gilliland Comments On Wagner & "True Press"

Donald Gilliland is Managing Editor of the Potter Leader-Enterprise and this is this week's editorial published there and republished here with permission.

Having lost his write-in campaign for commissioner,
Robert Wagner has announced he will resume – after
nearly 20 years – the publication of his “True Press”
pamphlet to “expose the conspiracy” of those
candidates who did win.

He’s claiming his campaign was subjected to “total
censorship” and as a result he must launch the “True
Press” once more.

Potter County does not need to go down this path
again.

The late 1980s was one of the darkest times in Potter
County history, and Mr. Wagner’s “True Press” was not
a light in that darkness.

Mr. Wagner’s pamphlet, though it claimed to “expose
corruption,” appealed in fact to the basest instincts
of our nature.

I was in college at the time. I was neither target nor
fan. But I remember the “True Press” well. It was
appalling – for many reasons and on many levels, but
ultimately because it never delivered what it
promised: proof of the alleged “corruption” it was
intended to expose.

Instead, readers of the “True
Press” were presented with sandbox name-calling and an
endless string of hints and allegations. Never proof.

It took years for the lawsuits to work their way
through the court.

It took longer for the wounds to heal.

I see no benefit to reopening those wounds.

Mr. Wagner claims to be doing what he’s doing “as the
result of the total censorship concerning (his)
campaign for Potter County commissioner.”

And here’s a lesson about Mr. Wagner.
That “total censorship” claim sounds compelling – it
conjures notions of abusive authority and suppressed
truth – but it’s bogus.

Wagner got press not only in this newspaper, but in at
least two others.

The Leader-Enterprise, the Endeavor News and the
Bradford Era all reported the fact of Mr. Wagner’s
write-in campaign during their coverage prior to the
election. The Endeavor ran Wagner’s campaign on their
front page.

That’s hardly “total censorship.”

Wagner got news coverage. His claim simply is not
true.

Apparently he wanted MORE coverage than what he got.
But consider this: Mr. Wagner never submitted one
scrap of campaign material to us. No press release.
No brochure. No e-mail. No FAX. No phone call even.
“Total censorship” implies there’s something to
censor.

It’s hard to suppress writing that doesn’t exist...
hard to mistreat a campaign that doesn’t have the
simple gumption to submit an outline of its platform.

Not until the day before the election – long after our
last edition was on the news stands – did Mr. Wagner
make any contact with the news staff of this paper.

Apparently, he thinks as soon as we saw his campaign
signs along the road, we should have gone running to
him to find out what his message was.

Admittedly, we did not.

But that’s not censorship. At worst it’s laziness, but
in this instance it was policy: the Leader-Enterprise
does not cover write-in campaigns in any detail. We
just don’t do it. To my knowledge, we never have.

We figure if a candidate is honestly and truly
interested in the betterment of the county, he will
submit himself and his ideas to scrutiny in the
primary election. We do not believe those who try to
subvert the process by waging last-minute write-ins
merit any special treatment.

The only arguable exception might be third-party
candidates who have no opportunity to be on the
primary ballot; but that does not apply to Mr. Wagner,
who’s a long-time registered Republican.

Mr. Wagner chose the hard way. We didn’t treat his
campaign any differently than we treated other
write-in campaigns in the past.

He submitted nothing to us, and despite the fact we
included him in our election coverage, he now claims
“total censorship.”

Make note now: this launch of the “True Press” began
with a falsehood – an outright lie.

Mr. Wagner’s censorship justification isn’t merely
false, it’s a fraud – a conscious attempt to make
people believe a lie, and rely upon that lie as a
justification for further action.

The press release in which Mr. Wagner announced his
intentions begins with the claim of censorship and
ends with an ad hominem attack on the county
solicitor, calling him a drunk.

That is the alpha and the omega of the Wagner tactic:
baseless allegations and character assassination.

Potter County has been through quite enough the last
five years, we do not need a replay of the 1980s.

Any Potter Countian who lived through those years – no
matter how far removed, and no matter what “side” they
may have been on – has dark recollections of that era.
We don’t have to go down that path again; we can learn
from history.

Mr. Wagner has every right under the constitution to
print his pamphlets.

But as citizens, we have no obligation to pick them up
or read them.

If we do, we are obligated – I believe – to hold Mr.
Wagner to a standard of proof. Small town jealousies,
long-standing hatreds, conspiracy theories are all
distractions.

We don’t have to like the people he writes about, we
simply have to ask ourselves, “What if this were me?”
Simply repeating an allegation does not prove it or
make it true.

If we choose to entertain Mr. Wagner’s pamphleteering,
we must question his generalizations – his claims of
“total censorship” – and examine them for what they
are.

Are they fact? Is there proof? If not, we
throw the “True Press” in the trash and move on.

We must resist the urge to get down into the muck and
roll.

Potter County’s future depends on us listening to the
better angels of our nature.

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