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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

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.

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