Bridge Magazine apologizes to Speaker Jase Bolger

Dear Bridge Readers,

bridge300 logoThis letter is a public apology to Jase Bolger, Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives.

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.

Phil Power
The Center for Michigan / Bridge Magazine

John Bebow
The Center for Michigan / Bridge Magazine

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Sun, 07/21/2013 - 9:37am
Mr Bolger should grow up and stop his whinning. As a taxpayer feel used and abused by many of the policies that he and his cronies have instituted over the last 2+ years. I am feed-up with his patronizing statements about doing the work of "Michigan's hard working" citizens while my taxes go up and I see no change in the way things are done in this state. Oh and Mr. Bolger as you point fingers at teachers and unions you may want to look at your party which controlled both houses of the legislature for most of the lost decade and that the state deficit was 2.3 billion $s on January 1, 2003. Sorry, no apology from this taxpayer, do your job -- Represent the PEOPLE of the state of Michigan.
Fran Hamburg
Sun, 07/21/2013 - 12:41pm
I agree that 'mistakes were made' in the handling of the Bolger interview and that your apology was justified under the circumstances. In the present climate, it takes extra effort to maintain truly even handed journalism. Fran Hamburg
Sun, 07/21/2013 - 4:53pm
Is an apology simply the words ‘We are sorry’ or does a true apology include the means to prevent a reoccurrence? The Bridge staff is quick with their words, but are they doing anything to prevent the ambushing of future commenters? We hear a lot of ‘we should have’s, but did we hear any ‘we will do’s’. It would seem that if the Bridge staff truly were concerned about ‘ambushing’ guest commentators they would create a protocol for inviting competing commenters that include a formalizing their ‘should have’s’, maybe adding the framing of the issue so both commenters would have the same reference when commenting, Bridge may even want to establish a none staff review group to offer an alternative perspective in the Bridge practices and review conformance to Bridge policies and procedures. There are many simple changes that could show a good faith effort to truly avoid such events as the one the Bridge staff is apologizing for. I wonder if the Bridge or a staff member were to receive such treatment they would be satisfied with the simple words of apology or would they want some assurances it wouldn’t happen again.
Chuck Fellows
Sun, 07/21/2013 - 5:30pm
What? Sensitive Mr. Bolger does not understand he is a politician and when called on it the same day or later he takes exception. It really is time to replace these infantile reactions with adult behaviors..
Greg Rosine
Mon, 07/22/2013 - 8:20am
Nicely done
Tue, 07/23/2013 - 11:45pm
Greg, Thanks, my first reaction was to take the apology on face value. I thought as most such politicial apologies it was simply a few words. But when you simplified it to "Nicely done.", that stop me to think about how well it addressed Rep Bolger's disappointment by claiming an innocents of motive while excerping the part of his remarks that were more personal and suggested to others that he needed to 'put on his big boy pants'. The staff even complimented themselves on publishing Rep Greimel comments even though they knew that they had misled Rep Bolger. The was a nicely done self engrandizement while apologizing for the typical media set. And the media wonders why the public is not as trusting of them as they are of themselves.
Mon, 07/22/2013 - 4:46pm
I think it's time for Mr. Bolger to put on his big boy pants and realize that while he may monopolize the Michigan House, he doesn't get to lay claim to the rest of the state. You were given the space to put out your take on how the state is going, and then your opponent was given the same space to give his. It doesn't get much fairer than that. And Bridge? While you're at it, you might want to pull up your Big Journalist pants, too.
J. Roo
Mon, 07/22/2013 - 6:20pm
When did a side-by-side comparison become an ambush? Did Mr. Bolger offer any apology for causing a grand jury to be held? Regardless of guilt maybe he should take a page from The Bridge and offer one when it's 'not needed'.
John Q. Public
Mon, 07/22/2013 - 11:43pm
Just curious, Phil and John: Was Greimel "informed of (y)our intention to publish both points of view?" Was he upset over the presentation? Did he say HE felt ambushed? Given your documented history of giving equal time to the opposition, Bolger should have known, at least through staff, that he not only could have, but should have, expected such presentation. In fairness, though, I understand he's having difficulty maintaining an experienced staff. One does not get to be Speaker by being that thin-skinned. His e-mail was just more of the political posturing at which he is so adept. Would only that he were equally adept at doing the work of all the people of Michigan
Tue, 07/23/2013 - 11:52pm
I do agree, "...should have, expected such presentation. " We are talking about the media whether it is Bridge or NBC they do what they want and apologize later. Always expect them to edit and present things as they want and maybe apologize only when someone is so 'thin-skinned' that they complain.
Barbara Miller
Tue, 07/23/2013 - 6:32pm
Bolger needs to mature into an adult.
Communications Guru
Wed, 07/24/2013 - 10:22am
Let me see if I got this straight: you apologized to Bolger because he was offended that there was an opinion that differed from his, and it got the same platform? As a former journalist, I’m appalled that you would bow to him like that. You should be ashamed.
Mike R
Wed, 07/24/2013 - 5:15pm
I admire and respect Phil Power and Bridge for striving to adhere to high standards. I despise Speaker Bolger for his utter contempt for high standards (or standards of any kind). The irony of the apology vs. its recipient is extreme.
Thu, 07/25/2013 - 7:59pm
Apologies usually only require two words (I'm sorry). This lengthy apology reminds me why our government does not work (too complicated and designed to satisfy one person)