Dear Bridge Readers,
We are apologizing for poor judgment in the handling of a recent guest column Mr. Bolger published in Bridge.
Mr. Bolger has not formally requested this apology. But, in the final analysis, we think we owe it to him. Here’s why…
During a conversation in early June, Center for Michigan Chairman Phil Power asked Mr. Bolger to submit a column for publication in Bridge addressing the public perception that politicians do not take on tough problems. As a counter to that perception, Power pointed to the legislature’s approval this year of expansion of the state’s public preschool program as an example of how politicians can look long term and address policy issues that do not result in an immediate political reward – since many of the benefits of preschool expansion are likely to be fully realized until after current legislators’ terms expire.
As Mr. Bolger remembers, he lamented in the conversation that the current legislature has “done many things that were long term looking and were not politically popular and that early childhood education was a good but not unique example.” Power re-emphasized his request for such a commentary.
Mr. Bolger submitted his column in early July. His published column can be read here.
We also pursued a companion column from House Minority Leader Tim Greimel. Mr. Greimel’s column can be read here.
We firmly stand by that nonpartisan instinct of fairness. Bridge Magazine guest columns are meant to be an open forum. A nonpartisan/bipartisan forum. So, when we offer column space to a leader of one major political party, journalistic fairness dictates we offer same to the leader of the other major political party. This has been a standard practice for the handling of high-profile political guest commentary that appears along with the in-depth, fact-driven reporting that is Bridge Magazine’s main mission. When a guest column advocates specifically strong or partisan points of view on concrete policy issues, we seek to give voice to alternative viewpoints.
Bridge Magazine published both the Bolger and Greimel columns absent endorsement or opposition. It was a fair, open-forum approach to leave readers to reach their own conclusions.
However, we believe we mishandled the publication of these columns in the following ways:
--Bridge did not inform Mr. Bolger that his column would be published the same day as the column we requested from Minority Leader Greimel. Given the nature of the original request, both leaders should have been informed of our intention to publish both points of view. Doing so is simply respectful communication. No guest columnist in Bridge should ever feel ambushed by direct rival column on the same day.
--Our lead headline in the July 14 edition of Bridge - “legislative leaders point fingers” - directly contradicted the original motivation for soliciting the speaker’s commentary.
Mr. Bolger did not like our final product.
“Bridge took what I crafted from our conversation that sought to offer explanation to the public that their state government is not shying from tough decisions, is willing to do things even when unpopular, and is looking out for the long term and made it into a ‘there they go again, partisan bickering again and nothing has changed’ fight,” he wrote in an email to us last week. “Through presentation they made the point completely opposite of our conversation and my column. I feel completely used. I am angry that you would seek a column from me that would then be use to generate a fight. I'm left to assume that was done to drive "clicks" because a fight ‘sells’ better than a discussion of ideas.”
Upon reflection, we understand and agree with Mr. Bolger’s concerns. Publishing Mr. Greimel’s views was the fair journalistic approach. But, given the nature of the original conversation, Mr. Bolger deserved to know a counter-argument to his column would be published the same day. Likewise, we regret our headline choice. Something along the lines of “two leadership views under the capitol dome” would have been more measured and respectful. But “legislative leaders point fingers” was gratuitous and contradictory to our original intent.
Bridge Magazine strives to produce leading, thoughtful, factual, explanatory reporting and fair commentary. It’s not our practice to apologize to elected leaders for our work. In this case, we did not meet our own standards. So, we do, indeed, offer Speaker Bolger our sincere apology.
The Center for Michigan / Bridge Magazine
The Center for Michigan / Bridge Magazine