To the editor:
In last Tuesday’s edition, Shaw Media President John Rung expressed the position of his company regarding the firing of Newton Daily News Editor Bob Eschliman. Rung is correct that Bob’s First Amendment rights are not at issue here. We have freedom in America to hold our own opinions, but no right to have them published.
But Rung is not correct that his actions are regaining the trust of the entire community of Newton or protecting the integrity of Shaw Media or living up to its own promise. Newton has a population of about 15,500. As a local pastor, I keep a running straw poll of total church membership in our town. Right now, it’s running somewhere around 7,000 people who are active members of one of our 38 churches. While this is a minority, it is a sizable one — larger, I believe, than the current subscription list of the Newton Daily News.
There is a spectrum of opinion among Newton’s Christians about human sexuality, but by far the largest portion attend churches that support traditional Christian doctrines — those doctrines which Bob’s blog article defended. Newton’s Christian community may not be monolithic or united – but any claim that Shaw Media is trying to “represent the entire community fairly” by firing Bob is simply uninformed.
This decision to fire Bob cannot be claimed to have anything to do with the content of Bob’s blog article or any company policy about personal expression by employees. It came, pure and simple, from pressure applied by social activists. And that’s why this firing is unfair.
Romenesko’s article inaccurately made it seem that Bob was attacking all gay people as the enemy, when in reality he was only referring to a few specific activists who are — by their own admission — targeting traditional Christian institutions. For mainstream Christians like Bob to take warning from this is entirely legitimate and in no way constitutes hate speech. There is no evidence that Bob intended to make a blanket claim that all gay people are enemies of Christians. In the absence of that evidence, the burden of proof should have rested upon Romenesko to prove his very serious allegation. But this is not what happened.
Instead, in the instantaneous news climate of today’s Internet world, Romenesko’s unproven allegation was rocketed around the world, picked up unexamined by the Des Moines Register, shown on television and used to smear a man who has never shown anything to us in Newton but fair, principled and high-quality journalism.