Concerned about another negative media blitz, the City Council put the brakes on a letter-writing campaign to elected officials and major news organizations on Tuesday. The letter called for an end to the “attack on the First Amendment” resulting from Sept. 11.
The Peace and Justice Commission recommended the letter-writing campaign in response to several government and media actions taken since the terrorist attacks. According to the recommendation, some of those actions include erosion of the right to privacy by the United States Patriot Act and an agreement by five television networks to voluntarily censor inflammatory statements related to the attacks.
“In the wake of this tragedy our leaders have repeatedly reminded us that the terrorists are seeking to destroy our way of life,” the commission’s letter reads. “Indeed, the best way we can show true patriotism is to protect and defend the constitution.”
The council voted 7-1 to approve City Manager Weldon Rucker’s opposing recommendation to have the commission work with city staff to develop a measured approach for distributing city policies. Councilmember Kriss Worthington cast the only vote in opposition.
The commission asked the council to send letters to the United Nations, the president, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland and senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein. The commission also wanted letters sent to major news media organizations including CNN, CBS and the New York Times.
“The commission’s report raises several important issues that the council should respond to but we must take responsible action in that response,” the city manager’s recommendation reads. “A more targeted distribution of communications from the city to federal officials is a more prudent and responsible approach.”
Worthington said city officials are concerned that sending the letter to major medial organizations might ignite another media blitz similar to last October’s. Berkeley was thrust into the national spotlight last October as a result of a council-approved recommendation calling for a speedy end to U.S. bombing in Afghanistan.
“Staff wants to spend another six to eight weeks coming up with safe ways to express the message,” he said. “To force the Peace and Justice Commission to add so much additional time to this letter seems very bureaucratic and unproductive.”
Chief of Staff to the City Manager Arretta Chakos said it is true that the city wants to avoid “inaccurate” media attention.
“The city received thousands and thousands of telephone calls, some of which were death threats to city officials,” she said. “And we got those calls largely because of misinformation in the media.”
Peace and Justice Commissioner Elliot Cohen was disappointed with the council’s decision.
“We are willing to work with city staff but I do agree with what Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that this is a slap in the face of the commission,” he said. “It’s a shame the city in which the free speech movement was born does not have the courage to stand up for the First Amendment without a conference with the City Manager’s Office.”
Contact reporter John Geluardi at email@example.com