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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

LESSONS LEARNED: Being Nice to Bob Dunning Does Not Pay

(The Scorpion and the Turtle)

Last Friday, I put up a “briefs” piece talking about a few small items, one of which was some commentary on Dunning’s week where I agreed with several points that he made, including his support for Measure J.

Researching old Davis Enterprise articles is kind of tricky at times. Newsbank has a database that goes back to 1997, however, the further back one goes in time, the more sketchy the database becomes. My search of “Bob Dunning” and “Measure J” revealed nothing prior to 2004. That left me with two alternatives—one would be to go to the library to wade through old microfilm from 2000 or the other was to ask people active in Davis at that time what their recollection was. Several people remembered Bob Dunning being mentioned in the “No on J” ad prior to the election and argued that his position was considerably nuanced and ambiguous.

So as my commentary on the matter, I threw in the line, “Then perhaps most shockingly he strongly supports Measure J (a measure he opposed when it was actually on the ballot)”—and didn’t think twice about it until I got an email from Bob Dunning, much to my surprise, since the last time he emailed me he was none too happy with me.

Dunning wrote:

“One quick correction if you wish to make it. I have always been in favor of Measure J. Both before and after. (Ask the anti-J folks. They were very mad at me at the time.) I have the battle scars to prove it. I can't believe you didn't check that out and I do note a lack of any quotes from me to back up your assertion that I was against Measure J.”
While this was a very small part of the piece--the major part was to demonstrate Dunning's contemporary position on some issues that we have agreement. However, since I was clearly wrong here, I put an immediate correction on the blog entry and intended to examine it further.

Dunning was not satisfied with this solution:

“Your "correction" woefully misses the mark on two fronts. First, you didn't list it anew, you just went back to the original copy, which most folks have already read and aren't likely to read again…”
I politely explained to him that blogs work a bit differently than newspapers.
"There is a difference between a blog and a newspaper. One of the differences is that the majority people read newspapers when they first come out. However, the majority of the people who will read this blog entry will do so in the future and have not done so already. So for people in the future, they will see that correction. People log on today and read what I wrote four months ago using Google and other search engines or going through the search and archive features on the blog itself. So you actually do want that correction in the blog. I have left the text the same so as to not distort the record that I was incorrect--I do not attempt to re-write history but I do like to correct misinformation."
Bob Dunning is largely correct on the history of his comments and my blog was incorrect in stating that he opposed Measure J.

On Sunday March 5, 2000 the “No on J” people paid for a full page ad in the Davis Enterprise. One of the blurbs was from Bob Dunning.

“We have too many people living here right now. What I propose is Measure O. Measure O will actually decrease the population.”
This ad implied Dunning’s opposition to Measure J. Dunning believed that ad to be a distortion that was flat out wrong. In his words he was extremely “pissed off” that his name was in the ad. So, Dunning then took the unusual step of having a Monday column on March 6, 2000 to respond. He writes:
“[W]orse yet, anyone who has read anything I’ve written over the last two months of this bitter campaign knows that… “No on J” is the exact oppose of how I am likely to vote in tomorrow’s election…

Basically, what I’ve said in several columns is that we have nothing to fear from letting people vote on issues of this magnitude, that Measure J is neither anti-growth nor pro-growth, but simply a measure that allows people to vote on growth…”
Having waded through two months of Davis Enterprises from January 2, 2000 until March 6, 2000, I would say that statement is somewhat accurate. Notice he said it was the exact opposite of how he would “likely” vote in the election.

Moreover he added:

“Unlike some commentators . . . . I refuse to endorse anyone for City Council or much of anything else.”

In any event, I was clearly in error on Dunning’s position on Measure J, though it seems clear that he was far from a clear-cut support of Measure J.

Nevertheless, I decided to try to do the right thing here and make an effort to clarify the record. I took the unusual step of sending Mr. Dunning a draft of this blog entry. I was roundly criticized for doing this by some close to me. They correctly point out neither Bob Dunning nor Debbie Davis would ever send me a draft for my review as a courtesy. And while that is unequivocally true, I want to do business differently than Bob Dunning and the Davis Enterprise.

One reason that a blog can be valuable to a community is that it allows information, including updates and corrections to be posted as they become available unlike newspapers that may report incorrect information only to “possibly” have a small correction printed on some obscure page.

Unfortunately my gesture of good will as well as my attempt to correct the record was returned with a hard slap in the face. In response to a draft of this blog, I received a two-page, single-spaced, diatribe from Bob Dunning.

"All of that was, of course, available to you as part of the public record. Everything I have ever written is out there for scrutiny. You don’t need a secret code to access it. And yet you, you who claims to be presenting the real story you won’t read in The Davis Enterprise, did no research at all to validate the facts."

The public record as Dunning refers to it required me to go down to the library for two hours to wade through the ancient microfilm technology.

“A simple phone call (I’m listed) or email (my email is in the paper five days a week) would have yielded the truth, as if the truth would have mattered to you, because, let’s face it, it didn’t fit your argument that I flip-flopped on Measure J and cannot be trusted. You maligned my honesty and my integrity with a bald-faced lie. And, if you think I’m biting your head off again, it’s because you deserve it.”

Perhaps the tone of this response suggests why I might be reluctant to contact Mr. Dunning. Most of my communication attempts with Mr. Dunning have likewise received this sort of response. So why would I feel comfortable calling him or emailing him to ask?

I made an honest mistake, sincerely attempted to correct it, and he calls this “A bald-faced lie.”

He finishes:

“Are you, in the spirit of truthfulness, going to reveal your shoddy “research” methods to your readers and explain to them who these “couple of people” were and why their memories were so bad on the most pivotal Davis election in the last 30 years?

The theme of that piece and most of your pieces is that “Bob Dunning cannot be trusted,” and “we can’t believe a thing Bob writes,” yet that conclusion, which has not been “corrected” in your piece, was based on a lie repeated over and over until it became “fact.”

You and your friends, because your knees jerk always to the left on all issues, simply can’t understand someone who takes issues one at a time. “Oh yeah, Bob Dunning was against Measure J, he led the charge, I remember it well.” What garbage.

I can be charitable and say you didn’t remember this important election. Maybe you had other things going on in your life. But, since you were about to malign someone’s honesty and integrity and make a definitive statement about them, it seems to me you owed your readers more than asking “a couple of people.” Especially when the hard facts were so readily available.

It’s hard for me to believe that everyone, including you, “remembered” it the exact opposite of the truth. And if you did “remember” it wrong, how can we trust anything YOU say?

Seems like a convenient excuse so facts didn’t get in the way of a good story.

You violated a critical rule of both journalism and the law by assuming facts not in evidence. And let’s be honest, you wanted the “facts” to be that way. You wanted me to have flip-flopped.

Your after-the-fact correction is silly, irrelevant and woefully inadequate. Your conclusion remains, Bob Dunning can’t be trusted because he flip flops, even though what you just told your readers is completely and maliciously false.

It seems as if you and your sources are the ones who can’t be trusted. I wonder if you’ll point that out to your readers as you seek to print the truth that The Davis Enterprise won’t. We obviously have a harder job than you do. We have to use facts to reach our conclusions. You, on the other hand, can just make stuff up. Or maybe it was a lie and you knew it all along.

Many, many people disagree with my point of view. That’s fine. You can call me crazy, misguided, “conservative” – though I’ll match my true “liberal” credentials and substantial field work for true liberal causes against yours any day – but making up complete, absolute lies that present just the opposite of what I have written and very publicly stood for is inexcusable. Based on the “comments” posted after your lie, many of your readers obviously believed your lie, which means you accomplished your purpose.

Fortunately, since you won’t do it in an adequate manner, I have a column of my own where I can set the record straight. The bottom line is, you didn’t do any research at all, you simply made it up.”

Next time, I’ll simply let Mr. Dunning use the feature on this site that is available to everyone else—the comment feature. If he has a problem with something I have written, he can respond instantly using the comment feature. Many people use it. It works. There will be no further communications between myself and Mr. Dunning.

I leave you with a parable that teaches us all an important lesson:

A scorpion, being a very poor swimmer, asked a turtle to carry him on his back across a river. "Are you mad?" exclaimed the turtle. "You'll sting me while I'm swimming and I'll drown."

"My dear turtle," laughed the scorpion, "if I were to sting you, you would drown and I would go down with you. Now where is the logic in that?"

"You're right!" cried the turtle. "Hop on!" The scorpion climbed aboard and halfway across the river gave the turtle a mighty sting. As they both sank to the bottom, the turtle resignedly said:

"Do you mind if I ask you something? You said there'd be no logic in your stinging me. Why did you do it?"

"It has nothing to do with logic," the drowning scorpion sadly replied. "It's just my character."

This is a lesson indeed I will take to heart.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting