By Doug Porter
UPDATED 8/26 With response from KPBS…
The spat between KPBS/inewsource and attorney Cory Briggs reached a new low this week when an invitation to retired civil rights leader and affordable housing advocate Rev. Richard Lawrence to participate on the Midday Edition program was abruptly withdrawn.
Lawrence, whose list of honors includes the San Diego Housing Federation’s “Lifetime Achievement Award” and a San Diego City Council declaration making November 10, 2013 “Richard Lawrence Day,” was supposed to be participating in an August 17th panel on San Diego’s declaration of an affordable housing state of emergency.
The reasoning behind his “dis-invitation” was that Lawrence sits on the board of San Diegans for Open Government and vigorously defended attorney Cory Briggs in the wake of allegations of misconduct made by KPBS/inewsource.
Here’s a quote from a press release Lawrence sent me:
Last Monday, August 17, Richard Lawrence, Co-chair of the Affordable Housing Coalition and former member of the “official” City of San Diego Affordable Housing Task Force, was invited by Megan Burke to participate in a panel discussion at the station on the affordable housing state of emergency which the City Council was about to renew for the 288th time over 12 years since Housing Day in August, 2003.
In an “pre-broadcast interview,” Mr. Lawrence mentioned that he was a bold supporter of Cory Briggs and an officer in San Diegans for Open Government (SanDOG). Later that same day a call came from Ms. Burke saying that KPBS has decided his participation was not necessary and constituted a “conflict of interest” because SanDOG has a lawsuit pending against the NPR’s local station.
Mr. Lawrence suggested that this was ridiculous and felt like retribution as affordable housing has no connection whatsoever to the subject of the lawsuit and, in addition, he was not personally suing the station.
Ms. Burke referred the issues to some higher ups. Natalie Walsh, who did not indicate her position at KPBS, called later in the day to confirm Ms. Burke’s position, and added that she had discussed the matter with her boss’ boss, an Associate General Manager for Content, who also agreed with the original position: Mr. Lawrence should not be allowed to participate as doing so “would not be in the best interests of the station.”
Rev. Lawrence has given some consideration to picketing the station.
The Man Who Isn’t (Apparently) Worthy
There are several layers to this story.
It’s certainly KPBS’ right to choose who they want on their programs, and this wouldn’t be an issue, except that
- He was invited in the first place
- Lawrence is uniquely qualified to speak on the subject manner of affordable housing.
The other thing you probably should know is that Rev. Lawrence is, based on my personal experience with the man, about as non-confrontational and gentle as they come. This guy is not the type to go on the air and disrupt a program, as his life story shows.
Here’s a condensed version of his biography from the website of the San Diego Community Land Trust:
He’s a retired United Methodist clergyman whose ministry is committed to social justice. In recent years he’s served on the boards of several national organizations, including the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), the National Black United Fund (BNUF), Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) and the Interreligous Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO). Locally, he served on the boards of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, and he continues service with Civic San Diego’s New Market Tax Credit Advisory Committee. In addition, he is currently Assistant to the Pastor of Christian Fellowship Congregational Church (UCC).
Rev Lawrence’s account of his return to Selma, Alabama for the 50th Anniversary of the famous civil rights march graced the pages of the San Diego Free Press earlier this year:
I had marched in Selma in 1965, and I remembered the terror of being in a place where I was not wanted and where the opponents of voting rights for Black Americans were uninhibited in demonstrating their first Amendment right to freely express their disdain for our cause and savagely denigrated us for our misguided choice of lovers.
Students from two inner city college campuses on Chicago’s Southside and I drove to Selma. Our VW Van had been on the road back and forth between Selma and Montgomery and was surely as well known to the KKK as the Chevy sedan Viola Liuzzo was driving when she was shot and killed. Uncertain of when the hood of death might be forced over our heads, we had plotted together and agreed that if we were stopped, we would scatter in hopes that one of us would survive and find someone to help save the rest of us.
Briggs vs KPBS/inewsource
The San Diego State University based public broadcasting station has a symbiotic relationship with inewsource, a non-profit group led by Karin Winner, a former editor at the Union-Tribune.
inewsource has run numerous unfavorable articles about Attorney Cory Briggs, who’s best known for lawsuits that have been disruptive to the tourism industry and various land developers.
It’s been my position that inewsource stories were connected to an ongoing campaign by the City Attorney’s office against Brigs in the face of damaging revelations and unfavorable court decisions relating to the cozy relationship between city officials and the tourism industry.
Although the inewsource articles have been full of adjectives like “tainted”, “possible criminal prosecution”, “conflict issues”, and “contradictions” the biggest tangible result has been a lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, challenges the lease inewsource has with San Diego State University, where it is based. The suit seeks damages from the university and its foundation, the university system, and from inewsource and inewsource founder Lorie Hearn. It can be read in its entirety here.
The lawsuit was filed by San Diegans for Open Government, a nonprofit organization Briggs has used to sue governments over allegations of environmental violations. The attorney representing the group is John McClendon of Laguna Hills, who has joined Briggs in filing lawsuits in the past.
As could be expected, reporters with a variety of local media outlets haven’t taken kindly to this lawsuit. They feel it’s an attempt to muzzle investigative reporting.
Lawrence Defends Briggs
Rev. Lawrence penned a vigorous defense of Attorney Briggs earlier this year, comparing his work with the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that was re-posted on the San Diego Free Press site:
We need Cory Briggs. We need the Courts. We need good, independent sources of news. We need citizens who are independent thinkers who will not blink in the face of criticism—especially when it is inaccurate and manipulated.
I continue to wonder if Inewsource is a friend of the fighters for truth, good government and environmental justice or a panderer to special interests and big bucks—a Mencken or a Hoover. Judging by the names on its list of top donors and how our work with Cory is frustrating their ambitions—i.e., nearly $2 billion in illegal taxes to subsidize hoteliers’ advertising and their ill-conceived Convention Center expansion—it looks to me like the latter.
I forwarded a copy of the release from Rev. Lawrence to producers with KPBS this morning.
When or if they respond, I’ll report on it.
UPDATED August 26th. (Five days later)
Response from Nancy Worlie, Associate General Manager, Content & Communications for KPBS:
KPBS maintains its editorial independence and can change or modify our segments or coverage depending on the news cycle or how a story develops.
Mr. Lawrence is an active board member of San Diegan’s for Open Government – an entity that is suing KPBS’ business partner inewsource and related affiliates/entities (SDSURF and the CSU).
As a journalistic organization we felt we had to disclose the lawsuit in the interview and it would have distracted from the topic of affordable housing.
Our Relationship with the Accused
As I’ve said several times before, I’ve met Cory Briggs exactly once. I have defended him in the face of what I believed were scurrilous attacks. Moreover, I think–given that the city lacks any actual official legal advocates–his lawsuits have served the greater good.
I could easily make the case that the lawsuits have been one of the primary sources providing insight into the double dealings between corporate interests and city hall in recent years.
The San Diego Free Press has provided a platform for his views on development, his office sends us press releases and I’ve emailed him for opinions on development issues. We even reposted a comment of his in today’s news feed. (A decision made before we heard from Rev. Lawrence)
We have no financial relationship with Briggs, or with any of the other big players in this town, for that matter. SDFP is an all volunteer organization, with just about $800 in the bank. The small donations we get via tee shirt sales (we’re out right now) and the PayPal button on the front page are enough to cover our server and other tech expenses.
Having said all that, I have no plans to nominate Cory Briggs for sainthood any time soon. Lawsuits over development issues and taxation are proxies for differences of opinion between competing real estate groups. For now, we find ourselves aligned with the interests represented by Briggs. Tomorrow could be a whole different story.
On This Day: 1831 – Nat Turner, a former slave, led a violent insurrection in Virginia. He was later executed. 1923 – In Kalamazoo, Michigan, an ordinance was passed forbidding dancers from gazing into the eyes of their partner. 1945 – Five flight attendants formed the Air Line Stewardesses Association, the first labor union representing flight attendants. They were reacting to an industry in which women were forced to retire at the age of 32, remain single, and adhere to strict weight, height and appearance requirements. The association later became the Association of Flight Attendants, now a division of the Communications Workers of America.
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