Story and photo by Hal Goodtree.
Cary, NC – Do you read the local newspaper with a soupçon of skepticism? You should.
Once again this morning, the News & Observer re-ran their version of the Bowden story. I saw it on page 3 of the Triangle edition.
David Bowden is the guy who painted the front of his house with the message “Screwed by Town of Cary” in big red letters. Mr. Bowden has subsequently replaced his original message with a permanent sign expressing a similar sentiment.
Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht wrote to us to point out several omissions and distortions in the story.
“Unfortunately, the article written was misleading, incomplete, and in my opinion was generating news rather than reporting it,” – Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht
Here are the facts.
A judicial appeal is a process with many steps. The most recent ruling by Judge Louise Flanagan is not the end of the process. In fact, her judgement was an expected outcome.
“To appeal the town had to ask Judge Flanagan to reconsider which we did a few weeks ago. Of course she said no but that is part of the process. So basically the N&O is rehashing old news and reporting that we are continuing a process (without printing it). To leave that point out makes it more sensational and helps sell papers.” – Mayor Weinbrecht
Cost to Cary
A glaring in hole in the article is the failure to mention that Cary has reached its deductible on legal costs for the Bowden matter. That means we’ve already paid for the appeal process and continuing will cost Cary taxpayers little or nothing.
“The cost of this appeal will be significantly less and may not cost us much more at all. The reason, the leading firm is appointed by the insurance company and we have reached our deductible. So most, if not all, of future costs will be shouldered by the insurance company. Once again, to leave this significant point out helps sell papers.” – Mayor Weinbrecht
The N&O continues to portray this as a “free speech” story. On their website, the story is tagged with the keyword phrase “free speech.” Mr. Bowden would certainly like people to see it that way.
However, the Town of Cary maintains that what is at issue is the ability of a community to regulate its standards of appearance. As Mayor Weinbrecht points out, Mr. Bowden has a slew of options to express his displeasure with the Town.
“We believe this ruling is not about the 1st amendment. As a matter of fact Mr. Bowden has always been allowed to put his message on a sign in his yard. If he would have done this then none of this would ever have happened. Again, the paper fails to mention that he can put a sign in his yard.” – Mayor Weinbrecht
Truly, Mr. Bowden’s ploy seems like an effort to pry money from the Town of Cary by being as obnoxious as possible while hiding under the cover of free speech.
More Regulation or None
Cary Town Council decided to pursue this matter with the intent to protect the value of our community from future bad actors.
According to Mayor Weinbrecht, the consequences of knuckling under to Mr. Bowden’s bullying tactics could have profound implications:
“If we don’t appeal one of two things will happen: 1) we will not be able to regulate any kind of sign anywhere. This means your neighbor could put up a 50 foot sign will flashing lights and there would be nothing we could do about it. OR 2) we would have to regulate Christmas decorations which I personally think is absurd. Of course the paper has never printed the consequences of doing nothing.” – Mayor Weinbrecht
Just the Facts, Please
It’s one thing to always harp on bad news. The N&O earned its nickname The Nuisance & Disturber long ago.
But it’s something else to shape stories so aggressively they mislead, all in the hope of ginning up a little controversy and a few more web hits.
That serves neither journalism nor the community.