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Oakmont News, Opinion & More

OVA-OGC: What’s Wrong With The Process & How To Make It Right — Part 3 What’s wrong with Oakmont News coverage of the OGC question?

This is the final in my 3-part editorial series addressing issues with the current process being used to decide on whether and how OVA should provide financial support to OGC. The other parts are:

Part 1 What’s wrong with OGC’s campaign for OVA funding?
plus introduction to the series and some background facts
Part 2 What’s wrong with the OVA Board’s response to the OGC appeal?

What’s wrong with Oakmont News coverage of the OGC question?

The Oakmont News has been used as a blatant propaganda vehicle for the OGC funding campaign, with no counterpoint or rebuttal to any of the OGC articles:

A definition of propaganda is “information or ideas that are spread by an organized group or government to influence people’s opinions, esp. by not giving all the facts or by secretly emphasizing only one way of looking at the facts.” [1]

In the April 15 issue of the Oakmont News (ON) [2], a front page article by OGC Board member, Gary Smith, entitled “The Oakmont Golf Club and the Oakmont Community”. This article laid out much the same case as did the February 26 OGC presentation, with a mixture of facts and clearly editorial commentary, belittling arguments against OVA support as “I” arguments. Steve Spanier recognized the inappropriateness of this article’s publication and apologized for it at the next OVA Board meeting, but he rejected any printed rebuttal of the article with “two wrongs don’t make a right”. The result is that, for Oakmont residents whose only source of Oakmont news is the paper, and who don’t attend OVA Board meetings, the impression is left that this article was approved as a feature article in the ON, and represents facts.

In every issue, the Oakmont News provides OGC with free advertising and a full page whose purpose is for OGC to be able to announce and promote events which they sponsor. From the April 1 issue until the present, Rick Warfel of the OGC Board has used his regular column 5 times for articles that can only be described as propaganda [3]:

  1. April 1: OGC Maintains Community Storm Drains and Waterways

  2. May 1: Bullish Signs for the Golf Industry

  3. May 15: OGC Spends Over $100k on Recent Community Waterway Maintenance Projects

  4. June 1: Golf Industry Contributes $84 Billion to U.S. Economy, Up 22% Since 2011

  5. June 15: You Don’t Play Golf, and You Don’t Live on a Course, Why You Should support the Oakmont Golf Courses

Of the above articles, 1 and 3 repeat the deceptive claim that OVA should share the cost of dredging the golf course ponds because they are somehow essential to flood control. 2 and 4 present rosy views of the future of golf in this country, from articles sponsored by golf industry associations. While not exactly deceptive, they are obviously biased and don’t present counterarguments. Article 5, like the Smith article on April 15, again repeats arguments made during the February 26 meeting, and, again, is a completely one-sided interpretation of the facts. The net result of all of this is that every issue of the Oakmont News from April 1 through June 15 contained an article supporting the OGC campaign for OVA funding. All of these articles meet the definition of propaganda, and the absence of any articles in ON rebutting these claims constitutes a very serious failure to educate Oakmont residents about the OGC question.

Around May 1, I wrote an editorial article entitled “Moving Past Outrage in Oakmont” which advocated making decisions relative to the OGC question based on reality and not on anger, and promoting the June 5 meeting, which I thought would be a more fair meeting than February 26 was. I first offered it to the Oakmont News, because I felt it would be a useful perspective and I wanted to reach all of Oakmont. When, after several days, I received no acknowledgment from ON, I submitted it to the Kenwood Press, which published a slightly abridged version of it on May 15, and I published the full version in the Oakmont Observer [4]. I am not claiming that my writing is great literature or that the ON should print everything they receive, but the topic was very relevant and middle of the road. That ON would not even give it enough credence to acknowledge receipt discouraged me from submitting anything else, because the likelihood that they would accept an article critical of the OGC campaign would be so slim as to be not worth the time to submit it.

In the time since the Board election, there have been no counterpoints to any of the six or more articles authored by OGC Board members, and there have been no articles documenting the decline of golf in this country, or the possible alternative futures for golf courses that close, or anything critical of the OGC party line.

This is a failure of OVA Board leadership, because they are responsible, through the Communications Committee, for ensuring that the Oakmont News is a balanced, factual source of information for the community. It is a violation of the trust placed in them by Oakmont residents who depend on the ON for unbiased coverage of community issues.

What can the OVA Board do to make this right? Direct the Communications Committee to establish the following policies, and monitor the Oakmont News to make sure they are followed:

  1. Ensure that any article relating to an issue that requires major OVA funding are balanced, or, if not, that opponents have an opportunity in the same issue of ON to provide a rebuttal article.

  2. Clarify the understanding between OVA and OGC, that their free space in the ON must not be used for propaganda articles whose purpose is to bolster their campaign for OVA financial support.

  3. In order to rectify past biased coverage in the ON, solicit and print articles that present counterarguments to those presented by OGC. This should probably be at least a full column (like Rick Warfel’s most recent article) in at least 3 consecutive issues of the ON. It need not be on the front page, but should not be buried in the back behind all the club news, either.

What can OVA members do to make this right? Again, write, call or Email your OVA Board members (Email addresses may be found at https://oakmontvillage.com/oakmont-residents/govt/board-of-directors/), asking them to correct whatever you see as wrong. Speak out at Open Forum, asking questions that require Board members to go on the record with their answers, and let them, and anyone listening, know what you think. Write letters to the editor for the Oakmont News, and if no such letters are printed, complain to your OVA Board members.

Conclusions

From the perspective of living up to Steve Spanier’s campaign promises of civility, fiscal responsibility, transparency and “free expression of ideas within Oakmont” [5], the events surrounding OGC’s campaign for OVA financial support have been an unmitigated disaster. This makes me very sad, because I think the sort of governance promised in that platform is exactly what Oakmont needs to heal from recent years of partisan conflicts.

But the OVA Board has prioritized OGC support over more pressing OVA needs, has consented to unreasonable OGC demands for secrecy, has allowed the Oakmont News to express only one side of the question, and all indications that are publicly visible are that the Board is determined to provide major 2019 funding to OGC, flagrantly ignoring fiscal responsibility. The OVA Board seems to be working as a committee of the OGC Board, whose responsibility is to find a way to provide the desired support within the law and in such a way that the OVA membership will let them get away with it. Trust in this Board to do the right thing is deservedly waning.

I believe that only aggressive corrective action, following the spirit, if not the letter, of recommendations I have provided, will turn this around so that the Board can gain the respect and trust that Steve has promoted and sought from his election campaign through the present. I appeal to the OVA Board of Directors to take the initiative and do the right thing.

REFERENCES

[1] Definition of propaganda from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/propaganda

[2] The Oakmont Golf Club and the Oakmont Community, Gary Smith, 15 April 2018, https://oakmontvillage.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/2018-Oakmont-News-4-15.pdf

[3] You can review any of these issues of the Oakmont News from the 2018 News Archive menu at https://oakmontvillage.com/all-updates/

[4] Moving Past Outrage in Oakmont, Bruce Bon, 4 May 2018, https://oakmontobserver.com/moving-past-outrage-in-oakmont/

[5] Platform, Steve Spanier, https://steve4ovabod.org/platform

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5 Comments

  1. James on July 25, 2018 at 8:06 am

    Bruce, a very good article and points.

    The Oakmont News publication policy should address this kind of propaganda, and while Chair of the Communications Committee last year there is no way the OGC articles would have been in the paper. We had only a few instances where we had to reject or return an article sent to us by a Club or Organization. You can read the area of the policy we were working with below, and know that we had created a new policy that was never brought to a vote which would have outlined how to work with this type of issue.

    The purpose of those sections of the paper are not for “commentary” or to sway “opinion” in Oakmont, and just because the OGC has a special arrangement for “services rendered” does not mean they should be able to post these types of articles. I would bet that if any other Organization sent an article that did not agree with the current perspective of the CC Chair, or more specifically the CC liason, it would be rejected immediately.

    The type of bias this represents in the ON, along with the rejection of your article being posted in the ON, continues the cycle of closing down OVA Member perspectives to support a side and try to keep everything pleasant. The solution given by some is that people should “meet in person” and have dialogue face to face. Okay then have your face to face and let the paper write articles about what was discussed, solutions that were given and what events will be offered to open the dialogue to a larger audience.

    Best of luck with this process Oakmonters. From the outside it looks contentious.

    Old policy:

    Club, Organization and Class Announcements:

    Each of the approved clubs, organizations and classes are allowed to promote their activities in the Oakmont News. Preferred focus is on upcoming events versus reporting on the results of events. An exception would be results of special events such as tournaments. Submission for publication by any group shall not contain political opinions.

    Other Approved Newspaper Columns or Sections:
    –Crime reporting in summary pertaining to Oakmont
    –Brief death notices pertaining to Oakmont residents, but only with permission from families.
    –Soliciting interest in a proposed club, class or organization with details on how to sign up. Up to three notices in the newspaper will be allowed to determine interest.
    –Detailed class listings by Lifelong Learning at Oakmont, three times yearly.
    –Golf News—The Oakmont Golf Club has a contractual agreement for space allocation in the newspaper in exchange for services rendered. Page position within the paper is not specified.

  2. Michael Connolly on July 25, 2018 at 9:19 am

    I notice that the new Communications Committee Charter and Publication Policy (approved at the June 19 board meeting) are still not posted on the OVA website. The links present there still reference the Charter and Publication Policies that were formulated by the previous CC over the course of months (at the direction of the 2017 BOD in response to previous abuses) and approved in October of last year.

    I would also remind OVA members that all of the new Board Directors attacked the previous CC in their campaigns and especially in statements at Candidates Night earlier this year. It appears they now support the presentation of one-sided and biased information to our members in light of the performance of their newly appointed CC, which is comprised of many of the members who were responsible for previous abuses?

  3. Bruce Bon on July 25, 2018 at 11:56 am

    The June policy has been up for at least a few days, at https://oakmontvillage.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Publications-Policy-approved-6-19-18.pdf

    I queried the CC about minutes of the July meeting, and they responded by putting up draft minutes (to be approved at the August meeting), at https://oakmontvillage.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Communication-Committee-Minutes-7-9-18.pdf There seems to be recognition that the OGC articles were over the line, but it is not completely clear what “clarify with the OGC that the nature of the articles in the ON must conform to the MOU and the ON publication policy” will actually mean. I haven’t seen the MOU, and I don’t see anything in the current policy that would prevent the OGC abuse of their space in ON.

    On Monday, I corresponded with Jackie Ryan and the CC on these issues, and, in my last Email to her, I recommended that they amend the policy to add something like:

    The Oakmont News shall provide fair and balanced coverage of important issues facing the community, especially those involving large expenditures or which might have a major impact on the future of Oakmont, and shall strive to provided objective information about the pros and cons of such issues, in order to provide transparency and to educate residents.
    ___

    I have no idea whether this will fall on deaf ears or be well received, but I will attend the August CC meeting (10 am Aug 22, OVA conference room) to find out. At least I have planted a seed.

    • Michael Connolly on July 25, 2018 at 1:02 pm

      Bruce, thanks for posting the link to the recently revised Publication Policy. However, the link on the News page (http://oakmontvillage.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2017-10-31-BoD-Aprvd-CC-Publication-Policy.pdf) still references the previous policy. Not sure that anyone looking for the new policy would readily find it.

      Also, this passage in the minutes of the 7/9/18 CC meeting (linked in your comment) was interesting: “In the last few issues of the ON, the OGC has politicized its position on support from the OVA. Marty moved, Harriet seconded, that the CC ask the general manager to clarify with the OGC that the nature of the articles in the ON must conform to the MOU and the ON publication policy. Motion passed unanimously. The ON policy is no political content, no advocacy of an issue for or against.”

      If the policy is as stated here, why were the editors of the newspaper not enforcing the policy? They made editorial decisions about what letters to publish and what news articles to print. The approved Publication Policy from October 2017 was still in effect until they submitted and received approval of their rewrite. It contained the following sentence: “Submission for publication by any group shall not contain political opinions.”

  4. Bruce Bon on July 25, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    I had no trouble at all finding the updated publication policy, but I lucked out — if I had accessed the policy through the Forms and Governing Documents page, I would have gotten the one you found, i.e. the old one, but I went through the Committees page and found the current policy document! I have reported the error . . . to the CC!

    I haven’t seen the OGC MOU – have you? Do you know where to find it? I’d like to see it.

    I agree that the ON staff either overlooked the violation or purposefully ignored it. Either way, it does not speak well of them. Even if there is no prohibition against such an abuse as Warfel’s in the MOU or the policy, anyone with any concept of right and wrong should have been able to identify it as ethically improper to publish it (at least with no rebuttal — I would welcome a fair point-counterpoint coverage). For it to have gone on for 4 months is incomprehensible.

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