The Daily Times has ended its Politically Correct commentary. Discussing a different topic each month, Gains Hawkins wrote from a Democratic Party perspective while Mark Edney took the Republican point of view. The demise of the series is traced to a complaint to the Times by Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver about a column Hawkins authored on the topic, “Black Lives Matter.”
Following Culver’s complaint—for which the Times found no factual basis--Times Executive Editor Ted Shockley advised Hawkins that he could no longer mention Culver in his column. This directive to censor speech about an elected public official in a political column was unacceptable to Hawkins. The Times then decided to cancel the series altogether.
For a detailed account please go to the Wicomico County Democratic Central Committee web site at wicomicodems.com.
By Gains Hawkins
The Daily Times has killed the monthly Politically Correct column—I was the liberal contributor and one of my columns was the impetus for the demise of the series.
In my February column on the topic, “Black Lives Matter,” toward the end of the piece I wrote: “The first administrative action Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver took was to fire a black staffer; his transition team had no African Americans; and his first major decision was try to defund new school construction for a majority black elementary school. “ The sentence was preceded by examples nationally of the obliviousness of white America to prejudices faced by African Americans.
Culver responded by sending the Times a letter to the editor refuting my contention he fired the African American public information officer. In his letter, he said his predecessor, Rick Pollitt, had dismissed the press officer the day before Culver took the oath of office.
Here’s what happened: Culver sent Director of Administration Wayne Strasburg to meet with the press officer the day before Culver took office to tell her she was fired, putting the decision on Pollitt’s tenure. Pollitt said he had nothing to do with the decision, it was all Culver.
On December 10, 2014, the Times published a story headlined: Wicomico Exec Culver fires press officer. In that article, Culver is quoted: “I decided the money could be better used in other parts of county government.” At no place in the article does Culver offer a different interpretation of the public information officer’s dismissal.
When the Times refused to print Culver’s letter to the editor, he advised the Times it would no long receive county press releases.
Ted Shockley, executive editor of the Delmarva Media Group which includes the Times (in effect the paper’s editor), and Culver discussed the impasse. Shockley’s decision: the Times would not print Culver’s letter to the editor and I could no longer write about Culver, but my column could continue. While the Times acknowledged I had not written anything that was inaccurate, I had engaged in “personal attacks” on Culver and the Politically Correct series had devolved into “sniping” from both left and right. (I seem to recall the character assassination then Del. Norm Conway endured on the op-ed pages of the Times.)
My response: I had commented on Culver’s political decisions and certainly engaged in passionate political discourse; it was after all a political column. To place an elected official off limits from my commentary was an affront to me and would perpetuate a fraud upon my readership. The Times either wants to provide a robust independent opinion page that challenges government policies and policymakers, or a pseudo opinion section that elected officials can serve as de facto gatekeepers.
Additionally, Shockley now reviews all Times content that includes Culver prior to publication.
In a year Spotlight won the Oscar for best movie and All the President’s Men celebrates its 40-year anniversary as an iconic film celebrating the importance of a free press, the Times succumbs to political pressure with self-imposed limitations on speech and commentary about an elected official.
A free press is intended to act as a check and balance against government. The Times has failed in a test to meet that expectation. In Salisbury, the sword is more powerful than the pen.