About those advertisements

Not that it really has anything to do with the editor – who has no say in the advertisements that appear in this newspaper, or who buys them or what messages they convey – but the folks at the business end of the building (and a few readers) have asked for comment on the recent political ads run by Jeffrey Sneller.

So here we are. We write this not knowing how the primary election will turn out, or whether City Council candidate Kim Brackett, the object of Mr. Sneller’s ire, has advanced to the general election. Not knowing whether Mr. Sneller will want to buy another ad attacking Ms. Brackett’s candidacy, or whether the Review’s business staff will sell him one anyway.

If we had to guess, we’d say that last week’s ads were so over the top, they backfired and earned Brackett more name recognition, sympathy and votes than she could have hoped for with a positive ad campaign of her own. Negative advertising can be funny that way.

While not privy to the decision-making process that went into accepting Sneller’s ads, the editor can say with some certainty that this newspaper would not print material exposing the company to litigation.

Accusations of “libel” have been thrown around without much precision, but as a candidate for public office, Brackett is subject to much more pointed comment and criticism than she would be as a private citizen. The ads showed a degree of negativity unusual in Bainbridge elections, true, but in the estimation of management, they didn’t cross any legal lines. So, they ran.

A newspaper is, after all, a business supported by advertisers. And unless you’re pushing cigarettes, booze, business scams or weird sex, this one will usually sell you some space.

But to the matter at hand: It’s been 15 months since Brackett published an article through a now-defunct website, alleging wetland violations on Battle Point properties where Sneller was building a luxury home. And it’s been 14 months since an arsonist destroyed that same home. To Sneller’s thinking, the two events seem inextricably linked, although that can never be known unless the crime is solved.

Brackett now has entered the political arena as council hopeful, and (as related lawsuits against the city wend their way through court) Sneller is waging a newspaper and direct-mail ad campaign against her. Judging by the response in last week’s letters columns, readers find Sneller’s views scurrilous and offensive, and not fit for the pages of the hometown newspaper. Fair enough.

We are, though, equally struck by the pronounced silence that accompanied the destruction by arson of the home Sneller was building. Where is the one reader – just one – denouncing the

willful burning of the man’s property? That silence carries the rather smug implication that because Sneller is (A) a developer,

(B) from California, (C) an alleged wetland violator, and to some minds (D) a jerk, he had it coming to him. One letter writer suggested as much, asking last week, “was [he] really building a ‘home,’ and not a McMansion that was going to sell for $3 million?”

It makes a difference? Wow, nice values. Call the rest of us old fashioned, but we still think of arson as a serious crime; the blaze could have spread to other homes, or injured or killed a firefighter. Shouldn’t someone stand up and say so?

A half-dozen readers have instead cancelled their Review subscriptions to protest Sneller’s ads, which (at the risk of sounding smug ourselves) probably means they’ll be borrowing their neighbor’s paper next week to find out what they’re missing. But we tend to think most readers are circumspect enough to see the ads for what they were – commercial messages, paid for by someone trying to sell something – and take them for what they’re worth. If you don’t like the message, fine, dismiss it or even rail against it; but newspapers are here to carry a range of political views, however disagreeable some might find them. Sneller had something to say, and apparently wanted to reach a broader local audience than he would through, say, a blog. We’ll take the compliment.

Not that any of this really has much to do with the newsroom, which again works quite independent of the business department. But since some have asked, the editor does have a couple of opinions about Jeffrey Sneller’s advertisements attacking Kim Brackett.

One is, we’re all relativists at heart. The folks who are screaming the loudest about Sneller’s attacks wouldn’t mind one bit if someone were using those same tactics against Sneller.

Another is this: the ads were too much. They were outrageous and inflammatory and uncivil, and not at all Bainbridge.

Of course, until recently, we would have said the same thing about burning down a man’s house.

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