I was extremely disappointed in Bill Nemitz and his editors at the @PressHerald for his Friday column, which attempts to defend a mean-spirited and racist email message from an assistant principal at a Portland school. Not gonna dignify it with a link.

Long thread... (1/X)
This piece failed to meet basic standards of journalism and ethics. It was embarrassing to read as a former Press Herald employee, and I have little doubt it’s embarrassing to many current employees, as well. (2/X)
As background: in an email that employs the kind of language you might expect to hear from a middle school bully, a fully-grown assistant principal at a Portland middle school attacked two women of color on the city’s Charter Commission, because they about white supremacy. (3/X)
The principal then sent this email to the city council and Bill Nemitz, thus entering it into the public record.
Earlier this month, the school board met in an executive session to decide that this person probably doesn’t deserve the promotion she’d been seeking.
The principal’s email included vulgar language and ad-hominem attacks. If this language had shown up among the Press Herald’s website comments, it would have been deleted for violating the paper’s online commenting terms of use (a pretty low bar).
Nemitz’s columns typically aim for a higher tone than the online comments section, but Nemitz and his editors decided to amplify the principal’s resentments, and, worse still, defend them.
I’m not going to degrade myself or you by repeating the principal’s words, but the Press Herald did, and that decision was unethical.
By amplifying a racist, ad hominem attack, the Press Herald puts people of color at even greater risk of harassment.
Further, several of the accusations that the school principal makes appear to be inaccurate.
Another mistake: Nemitz and his editors took an ax-grinding letter at face value and did not verify its claims, which exposes the newspaper to a possible libel suit.
Yet another mistake: Nemitz also failed to disclose the fact that the author of this vulgar email is married to a failed Charter Commission candidate who lost, badly, to one of the women of color she targeted.
Personal attacks aren't necessarily racist. But the principal goes there (and this is the only quote I’ll use) when she claims that "if the people (talking about white supremacy) were not people of color, they'd be done, gone, and trashed."
Nemitz lamely attempted to re-cast this statement as mere “political” speech. But the principal isn't talking about tax policy or curriculum standards here.
The argument the principal is making here is clear, and clearly racist: she’s saying that the two women of color on the Charter Commission need to shut up and stay in their place.
The principal’s behavior, and Nemitz’s defense of it, fits into a now-familiar pattern: one, the myth that white people are being oppressed when people of color talk about the indisputable facts of their own oppression.
And, two, the pearl-clutching warnings that “free speech” is in danger when white people face consequences for their bad behavior.
This is a mistake Nemitz really should have avoided, given how often he’s needled Republicans for making similar blunders.
We expect to hear this kind of self-pity from people like Paul LePage and Donald Trump, but not from Bill Nemitz.
“Free speech” doesn't mean that speech doesn’t have consequences.

School principals have the freedom to write racist emails, but they're also accountable to basic standards of decency, and school boards must protect their students.
The 1st Amendment doesn’t entitle anyone to a promotion, or even ongoing employment, when they fail to meet professional expectations.
Speaking of professionalism: there are many decent people at the PPH and I suspect that Bill’s careless column is a teeth-grinding embarrassment to them, too. Bill also doesn’t deserve all the blame: editors are supposed to correct writers’ mistakes before they go to print.
I was born and raised in Standish, not far from where Nemitz lives today, so I understand that it's often difficult to recognize racism when it's happening right under our noses. Guys like us have been conditioned to ignore it for all our lives. But we need to do better.
Unfortunately, the Press Herald’s editors have made similar mistakes before, and they’ve been forced to apologize to some of the same people who deserve yet another apology now.

What’s really unforgivable is the editors’ ongoing failure to learn from those mistakes.


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