Clearing the air on Brunch columnists

For more than a year, Bridge Magazine has run a Sunday feature called “Brunch with Bridge,” featuring an evolving cast of Michigan writers expressing their views on how to best move the state forward. Much like our guest columns, we seek a range of voices in Brunch, in keeping with the Center for Michigan’s mission of amplifying diverse, thoughtful discussion on critical issues of the day.

Usually, the comings and goings of Brunch columnists proceed without fanfare. That is, until this week. On Tuesday, Greg McNeilly, a recent Brunch columnist and president of the Michigan Freedom Fund, issued a press release titled, “Bridge Magazine Does Big Government’s Bidding, Cancels Monthly Pro-Freedom Column from Freedom Fund President.”

In the release, McNeilly, a pull-no-punches Republican political strategist, said that Bridge dropped his column because of pushback from “Big Labor, Big Energy and Big Government,” leaving Bridge, in his words, “without a single, regular conservative voice.” He also falsely accused a Bridge colleague of lying about our decision not to run another of his pieces.

Ordinarily, the decision to cancel a column would fall under the category of an in-house editorial judgment that Bridge would handle quietly (as we did here) out of respect for the writer. McNeilly’s release, which makes unsupported, public attacks on Bridge’s actions and perceived motives, changed this calculus.

Let me set the record straight:

First, it almost goes without saying that Bridge deliberately seeks perspectives from across the political spectrum, which goes to the core of our nonpartisan mission. It is not unusual to have turnover in our Brunch roster, which we encourage to continue to offer fresh, new perspectives to readers.

McNeilly’s charge that Bridge is now without a single conservative voice would probably surprise fellow Brunch columnists, including David Worthams, chairman of the Kalamazoo Republican Party; Dr. Jeffrey Polet, a political science professor at Hope College, who has written forcefully on his conservative views, and two Grand Rapids contributors, attorney Conor Dugan and writer Gabriel S. Sanchez, who have wrestled with the shifting contours of conservative thought.

McNeilly is correct that I reached out to him this summer in the hopes he would add a fresh conservative perspective to Brunch. I told him then (not McNeilly directly, nobody at Bridge ever spoke with him; his Freedom Fund colleague Tony Daunt handled all calls and emails, declining to provide Bridge with direct access to McNeilly) that we wanted him to dig deeply into state policy issues. And we made clear he must do so respectfully, a requirement that’s non-negotiable for all Bridge writers and contributors, whatever their ideology.

In the end, as I told Daunt last week, it was not a good fit. The tone of McNeilly’s columns was at times antagonistic, often veering into shallow talking points and cliches rather than thoughtful, constructive debate. The decision had nothing to do with his latest column, which was published in the Detroit News this week.

Michigan faces many challenges, and conservatives and progressives often have different ideas for solutions. The more those groups talk to each other, the more likely they will find common ground. One of the missions of The Center for Michigan and its publication Bridge is to foster those conversations, through journalism and commentary that opens minds to different points of view.

That includes, and always will, views that are both skeptical and supportive of labor unions, large utilities and an activist government. No, Bridge did not drop McNeilly’s column because of pressure from “Big Labor, Big Energy and Big Government.” In fact, I never heard a single word about his writings from any of these groups. For all his apparent disappointment that his work will no longer appear in Bridge, perhaps it’s that silence that stings the most.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Jeff Salisbury
Thu, 09/25/2014 - 7:11pm
All good on you. This fellow as no interest whatsoever in meeting those with whom he disagree, in the CENTER.
Thu, 09/25/2014 - 7:20pm
McNeilly came off as more of a talking-point spouting political hack than an essayist. Good riddance.
Fri, 09/26/2014 - 1:07am
1. Drop his picture from your 'contributors' list. 2. This is a guy who is not authentic or genuine. That has perhaps caused some internal conflict that the rest of us dislike.
Sun, 09/28/2014 - 9:21am
Wow. I don't remember any of Greg McNeilly's contributions to Bridge and based on this article I can certainly understand people's strong negative reaction to him, but is the last sentence really necessary. It smacks of (antagonistically) kicking someone who is down and certainly violates the requirement of respect that Mr. Zeman trumpets. It strikes me as another example of Bridge talking the talk but not walking the walk.
Richard McLellan
Sun, 09/28/2014 - 5:11pm
This whole kerfuffle will just add to the flack I get from fellow conservatives that Bridge is just a platform for Phil Power's center left political views. I do recognize that Bridge can limit its articles that involve "diverse, thoughtful discussion" within a narrow range of political views. But I read Bridge primarily to see what the liberal community thinks are the important issues of the day, not expecting other than token pre-vetted "conservatives." I am afraid this dropping/silencing (although McNeilly will not be silenced) contribute to my growing concern about the left restricting unpopular views. The speech codes on university campuses and canceling conservative, politically incorrect speakers, are another example. And the State Bar of Michigan seeks to use compelled dues to silence some speakers. Bridge could do a lot more to truly support diverse views.
Jonathan Ramlow
Sun, 09/28/2014 - 5:16pm
It would be quite interesting to hear from the Bridge's remaining conservative columnists about Mr. McNeilly--the quality and accuracy of his writing, the ratio of reasoned and evidence-based opinions to hyperbole in his columns, and his willingness to engage in collegial and ad hominem-free discussion with people who disagree with him. Personally, I find that his writing closely resembles what we see and hear (if we must) on Fox News TV and Rush Limbaugh radio. I was intrigued, however, by his suggestion that Michigan's constitutional upper age limit (70 years) for prospective state judiciary positions represents "entrenched ageism." Let's take this idea a bit farther. It seems to me that a constitutional upper age limit is really no different in practice than minimum age limits, e.g. minimum age of 30 for Michigan governors. We also require Michigan citizens to be at least 18 years old in order to vote. Are these limits also intolerable ageism, or are they perhaps based on generally accepted markers for attainment of levels of maturity and experience? With Mr. McNeilly I must see these limits as quite intolerable. I say Michigan citizens should be able to vote as soon as they have acquired the ability to read a ballot--at the age of 8 perhaps, or perhaps 10. Michiganders of such an age but less than 18 are currently deprived of their natural right to have a say in matters of government that might affect their lives. I certainly observed my own children's attainment of political maturity in elementary school. So let's hear from Mr. McNeilly, if anyone can get a hold of him, about the problem of young-ageism vs. old-ageism.
John Q. Public
Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:41pm
I think literacy as the price of suffrage has already been ruled upon by the courts. That niggling point aside, "Who votes?" is a fascinating fork in the road. I've always been partial to allowing anyone with a tax bill in his own name to vote. Re: ageism, we could stand a little more of it at the youth end of the spectrum. I long ago tired of under-25 idealogues who occupy seats in the legislature based on their ability to do as they're told and little else.
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 1:45am
It seems by Mr. McNeilly's actions that he feels this as being one of the worst injustices he has experienced. By Mr. Zeman's article is seems he similarly feels he has experienced one of his great injustices. If that is true for either of them then both have lived a very fortunate life. I feel I have led a sheltered life and neither of these would even be considered in my top ten personal injustices. I don't believe in the'fairness doctrine', especially for private organizations. What is posted or allowed to remain on the Bridge website is solely the responsibility of Bridge. Whether staff likes it or not they are at the mercy of readers freedom of choice so they have to be cognizant of their expectations for the Bridge's sustainability. I really don't know or care what a 'liberal' is or a 'conservative' is in the context of the postings on Bridge, I am only interested in whether what is offered is worth thinking about. As for Mr. Power's or Mr. Zeman's point of view, as best I can tell they are very comfortable with conventional 'wisdom' as is most of those who write articles for Bridge. I wonder what reads like to read, is it well established points of view (conventional 'wisdom) with a point or fact they haven't heard or would they like to read new or different perspectives on those issues, would they like to engage in a conversation about articles or is simply posting their view enough, would they like to participate in a discussion about current problems/issue trying to find the causes and innovative approaches to address them. I have to admit of all the writers I have read on Bridge, the only one that I would miss, because of what he discovers and presents in his article (the Albion Marshall articles as an example) is Mr. French. The rest seem to tied to conventional 'wisdom'. I do like to read many of the commenters, so many bring up points I would like to have a conversation about, but I digress. As for Mr. McNeilly and Mr. Zeman's actions, it is a non-event, it is part of Mr. Zeman's role and responsiblities. If Mr. Zeman ignores my comments or even deletes them it is a non event since it is his website to care for.