by lyle e davis
There are some mighty powerful Barack Obama fans out there in North County. It appears Steffani Cobler, Office Administrator at Kaiser Permanent, San Marcos, is one of them.
Ms. Cobler called The Paper last Thursday to advise that we would not be allowed to deliver our paper on the campus any longer. Up until that time we had been dropping 700 copies every week off for staff and patient’s reading pleasure.
We pointed out to Ms. Cobler that we had been delivering The Paper to all North County facilities of Kaiser for almost seven years. They had received weekly deliveries of The Paper at Escondido, Rancho Bernardo, San Marcos, Vista, and Carlsbad Kaiser campuses. It has been a harmonious relationship with staff and patients alike looking forward to their new reading material every Thursday.
Why, we asked, would we now be banned from the San Marcos campus.
“You ran an editorial that we did not agree with,” she said. “You had a picture of Senator Obama and had derogatory things to say about him. Plus,” she went on, “several of your jokes we found offensive. I and several of my colleagues found them offensive.” She told us further, “Our Physician-Leader read your editorial critical of Obama and it upset him. He said he didn’t want this paper here anymore.”
At this point we explained to Ms. Cobler that:
a: The editorial she was referring to was not editorial at all. It was a paid political advertisement, placed and paid for by The Republican Majority Campaign and if she, or any Democrat wished to place a political advertisement supporting Senator Obama, we’d be happy to accept the order, accept their money, and allow them freedom of expression by placing their ad with us.
b. We pointed out that we have run the “Give Us This Day Our Daily Chuckles” column for nine years. 52 weeks a year x 9 years = 468 columns with an average of 15 jokes per column. That totals 7020 jokes. In that time we have had nine complaints. Nine. Of those nine we felt only one was totally valid. We had neglected to edit out a curse word and the lovely little elderly lady who called us on it did not only have every right to call us on it, she was absolutley on target.
We asked Ms. Cobler the name of the “physician-leader” who was so upset about the paid political advertisement concerning Senator Obama. She refused to give us his or her name. We advised her we’d like to talk to him or her and make certain that he or she understood that this was a political advertisement but had it not been, if it had been an editorial statement by The Paper, that this was something called freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and it is covered by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America as well as the California State Constitution. We would have pointed out that for him/her to order The Paper banned because he or she did not agree with the political statement was tantamount to him/her deciding what others could say, hear, or read . . . and this is a serious infringement of freedom of the press.
Ms. Cobler was unmoved.
We asked her which joke(s) offended her or her colleagues. She could not cite which particular joke offended her.
We reaffirmed that she and her colleagues were trampling all over First Amendment rights . . banning something simply based on content that she, personally, or some unnamed doctor, was offended by. This unfairly put her and the alleged physician/leader in the position of deciding for the public what they may or may not read. That is clearly suppression of free speech.
We went on to point out that we had begun negotiations with Tom Fox, Property Management Officer for Kaiser Permanente, to memorialize what had been actual practice for the past four to six years at various Kaiser locations. That is, we were prepared, and still will, submit a letter requesting formal permission to supply The Paper to the above cited Kaiser locations. We suggested Ms. Cobler’s action was both premature and unnecessary as we had already begun a compliance and prepared the necessary paperwork in response to Kaiser’s request.
I called well known attorney, Gary Kreep, who is not only a very active constitutional law attorney, but also very active with the Republican Majority organization, the group that had placed the ad. He, too, had received several pieces of hate mail . . . in response to the ad. Bad, bad hate mail. Filthy language.
We have received about five or six phone calls here at The Paper, complaining about the ad. The callers were all respectful and simply let us know they disagreed with the position taken within the ad. We had one Letter to the Editor from Lita Bowles, an activist with the Democratic Party. She, too, took issue and regretted the publication of the ad. We patiently explained to each caller that it was a paid political ad . . . and if they wished to buy an ad to counter the message, we would be glad to accept their money and place the ad.
We’ve also received a number of calls from people who loved the ad.
Suppressing Freedom of Speech, or the attempt to do so, is not all that uncommon. For some strange reason, our freedom of speech seems to be drawing most attention from area hospitals. We’ve done three well documented and unchallenged expose’s on Mike Covert, the president and CEO of Palomar Pomerado Health District. As soon as our first expose broke, guess what happened? They sought to ban our papers from the hospital.
We still deliver The Paper to Palomar Medical Center. And they still try to throw most of our copies away. Some still get through to staff and patients.
More recently, Tri City Hospital tried to pass a bond issue for the third time. The San Diego Union Tribune and the North County Times endorsed the bond issue. We opposed it. It failed. For the third time.
Guess what happened? The very next day we were banned from distributing The Paper at Tri-City Hospital. We still deliver our papers to Tri-City Hospital. They may throw some of them away . . . but not many.
We’ve made our positions clearly known with both Palomar Pomerado Health and with Tri City Hospital: they are public hospitals. We have every right to distribute our papers at public hospitals under the First Amendment as guaranteed by both the Federal Constitution as well as the California Constitution.
It is unclear to us, as yet, whether Kaiser Permanente, as a private hospital, has the right to deny us access to deliver our papers. The incident only just happened so our legal counsel is checking and double checking the law to find out where we stand and what, if any, legal remedies we have.
We do know that what the San Marcos Kaiser facility has done is violative of the First Amendment by attempting to suppress free speech. Their ban of our papers is based on content and they acknowledge that. That is suppression of speech and by one or two people.
So Who Does Banning The Paper at Kaiser Hurt?
It hurts you, the reader.
You won’t have the chance to learn the results of investigative journalism we have undertaken to protect you, the consumer. You won’t get to read fascinating cover stories about adventure, travel, historical slices of time. You won’t get to read the handy information provided by our brilliant columnists.
And you won’t get to chuckle at The Chuckles Column. (We’ve been warned by many of our readers the if we ever took the Chuckles Column out of The Paper we’d be drawn and quartered. And maybe spanked).
If we find out about a corrupt politician . . . a swindler running around loose . . . a sex offender being released into the community . . . how are you going to learn about this, absent your favorite community paper, The Paper?
We have been very pleased at the consistent reports we get from our readers who have picked up copies of The Paper while visiting the various Kaiser clinics. They enjoy the Chuckles, they enjoy the cover stories. They either agree or disagree with our editorial positions . . . but they grant us our right to express our opinions, just as we offer them the right to express theirs via the Letters to the Editor columns and/or Guest Editorials.
Next time you go into the San Marcos Kaiser Clinic and notice there are no copies of The Paper, you may want to call Ms. Cobler and let her know how you feel. She can be readily reached at 760.510.4126.
Late breaking news: We have been contacted by the PR office of Kaiser and have held discussions with Casey Hart, Communications Manager, Public Affairs, Kaiser Permanente - San Diego. I reviewed the entire scenario with her. She said Ms. Cobler did not have the authority to ban The Paper (but we still wouldn’t be allowed to deliver our regular drop of 700 papers) because we didn’t have a formal agreement.
She insisted we had not been banned from the San Marcos Kaiser Clinic because of editorial content and that Ms. Cobler had not authority to take the action she did.
I insisted, indeed, we were banned based on what Ms. Cobler and her unnamed cohort, the “physician-leader,” decided what was good for our readers to read and what wasn’t. Her (Ms. Cobler) statements could not have been much clearer. We quoted her accurately. If she was not authorized to ban us, or to give such an order then I submit that is a disciplinary matter that Kaiser should deal with internally.
We are also concerned that Ms. Hart suggested “you do not serve your cause” if we were to publish the story and to say we were banned. I took this as a veiled threat that if we went with the story that we would be automatically denied access to all Kaiser facilities.
I don’t respond well to threats.
All we have ever asked is to be judged as a weekly newspaper. Judge us on what we offer the community. Well researched and written investigative reports on issues that concern North San Diego County, entertaining and informative cover stories, a regular digest of jokes, cartoons, and humorous essays, a source for brilliant writers, outstanding columnists who know their profession, craft, or trade, and a meeting place for civic and service club groups to make announcements and work with the public.
Judge us on those criteria.
But do not threaten us. We will publish what we feel and know to be the truth . . . or our opinion and those of others. And we will not allow, nor tolerate anyone to interferr with our right of freedom of the press. Nor with yours.