That is all anyone with half a brain can say about The Augusta Chronicle president Dana Atkins’ explanation regarding his decision to initially pull Columbia County News-Times publisher Steve Crawford from this Saturday’s debate between incumbent Congressman John Barrow and Republican challenger Rick Allen.
In case you missed it, news broke Wednesday that apparently both Allen and Crawford were not going to participate in the 12th District Congressional Forum at the Islamic Community Center of Augusta.
Now, Allen’s spokesman vehemently denies that the Republican candidate ever actually pulled out of the political forum.
But Crawford, who had already agreed to be the moderator of the forum, had been working with Hossam Fadel of the Islamic Society of Augusta to formulate the questions and send them to incumbent Congressman John Barrow and Allen prior to the debate.
But the entire forum hit a huge wall when The Augusta Chronicle’s president Dana Atkins decided to withdraw the Columbia County News-Times sponsorship from the event and Crawford was informed he could not participate as moderator.
The next thing Augustans knew, the rumor was that Allen was allegedly also backing out of the debate.
The question all day was: why?
Why did Morris Communications pull Crawford and its sponsorship from the event held at the Islamic Community Center of Augusta?
Well, Augustans can read the “official” explanation from Morris Communications in Thursday’s article in The Augusta Chronicle claiming it was an issue relating to the paper being a “cosponsor” of the forum.
But the article put a positive spin on the entire controversy by announcing that the debate is back on with Crawford as moderator.
The only real difference: the venue.
The political forum will now be held at the Evans Government Complex.
Now, you might be wondering, how did Atkins explain his decision to change the venue?
Well, Atkins shocked listeners to The Austin Rhodes Show on WGAC on Wednesday when he called in right before 6 p.m. to explain what had happened.
He told listeners that the debate with Barrow and Allen would still be held as scheduled, but the venue had changed because one of the candidates had some “apprehension” over holding the forum at the Islamic Community Center of Augusta.
When Rhodes pressed Atkins to explain which candidate was uncomfortable with the Islamic Community Center as the venue, Atkins was honest.
“It was the Rick Allen campaign headquarters,” Atkins told Rhodes.
Rhodes asked what reason did the Allen camp give for its concerns.
“I don’t know to be honest with you,” Atkins told Rhodes. “What I understood is that there was some apprehension about the venue. It wasn’t expressed to me in any other details other than, you know, if there was another venue it might be more suitable for all of us.”
Atkins went on to clarify that it was his decision as president of The Augusta Chronicle to initially pull Crawford and the sponsorship from the event.
He insisted that William S. Morris III, CEO of Morris Communications and publisher of The Augusta Chronicle, was out of town and probably had no idea about the change of venue.
“This has all been with me,” Atkins said, adding that he wasn’t even sure if Morris’ son, Will Morris, the president of Morris Communications Co., knew about the situation. “This actually came to me from my boss who basically said, ‘Hey Dana, are you aware that we are sponsoring a political debate?’ And I wasn’t, to be honest with you.”
According to Atkins, he decided the Columbia County News-Times should no longer be a cosponsor of the forum.
In The Augusta Chronicle’s article about the debate in Thursday’s paper, the story actually points the finger at poor Crawford.
Talk about getting screwed by your own employer.
Crawford may want to consider raising his own finger back at them.
“Due to a misunderstanding, the publisher of The Columbia County News-Times, Steve Crawford, failed to follow protocol in getting approval in sponsoring Saturday’s political debate between Rep. John Barrow and GOP challenger Rick Allen,” The Augusta Chronicle’s article states. “The Augusta Chronicle’s president, Dana T. Atkins, withdrew the News-Times sponsorship as it implied indirect endorsements.”
All right. Now, it is time for Atkins and the Chronicle to get real.
This is, by far, not the only political forum the paper has ever sponsored.
In fact, the Columbia County News-Times just sponsored this past week’s political forum between candidates seeking to fill the Columbia County District 3 seat that was vacated by former Commissioner Charles Allen.
The paper’s own Sept. 24 article about the forum states it was “organized by a group of Columbia County residents, headed by Karen Wright, and cosponsored by the News-Times.”
So, somehow the cosponsorship of a Columbia County debate between commissioners held at the Evans Government Center was all right, but the political forum between Barrow and Allen was not?
“We were not going to go out there and do that because it is an implied endorsement,” Atkins told Rhodes on WGAC this week, referring to the Barrow/Allen debate at the Islamic Community Center.
An “implied endorsement” of whom?
It can’t be either Allen or Barrow because they had both agreed to attend the debate.
Sure, the newspaper allowed Allen some stipulations, but Barrow had agreed to them, so what endorsement is Atkins talking about?
It’s just lame.
And what does Allen’s camp say about the change of venue?
Just take a look at the language in this week’s press release from Allen’s spokesman Dan McLagan:
The facts of the Islamic Center forum Barrow is very keen on attending are this: the Columbia County News Times that was co-sponsoring the forum has withdrawn from the arrangement and is trying to establish its own event. Allen, for his part, has not withdrawn from anything.
“It is interesting that the only two standing shoulder to shoulder on this topic are John Barrow and a Muslim cleric who are attacking Rick Allen together,” said Allen spokesman Dan McLagan. “Barrow’s obviously close association with the head of the Islamic Center is his affair but it does make this a suspect venue for us. All of our contact has been with the News-Times and we would be happy to continue our conversations with them.”
Did you get that?
It states Barrow is “very keen on attending” a forum at the Islamic Center and that he is “standing shoulder to shoulder” with a Muslim cleric who is allegedly attacking Allen.
But the last quote is the worst, “Barrow’s obviously close association with the head of the Islamic Center is his affair but it does make this a suspect venue for us.”
Come on, people.
This is a prejudice press release.
If Georgians can’t see that, they’re blind.
This whole debate has been a complete public relations disaster.