An advertisement, written by Debbie Collazo of Tucson, which appeared in last week’s print edition of the San Pedro Valley News-Sun and is scheduled to run on the digital version for most of November, is scurrilous, disgraceful and troubling in several respects.

First, and most significantly, Ms. Collazo asks in her advertisement why the Benson City Council has “ceded power to…Brian Seasholes and others?” This claim, which would appear to be borderline if not actually libelous, is a smear made without any evidence. Note that Ms. Collazo does not qualify her claim in any way: she asserts it as categorical fact without one shred of supporting or corroborating evidence. This is a very serious claim, because it strongly implies the Benson City Council is corrupt and that the duly elected leaders of the City of Benson have willingly allowed their authority to be subverted by non-elected persons, including me. I demand that Ms. Collazo provide evidence of this claim, and if she is unable to do so that she issue a retraction and apology in the News-Sun.

Second, the decision by the San Pedro Valley News-Sun to run Ms. Collazo’s scurrilous advertisement is a disgrace. Since when is it the policy of the News-Sun to allow people to take out advertisements in order to target specific people with ad hominem attacks? This decision appears in direct contradiction to the News-Sun’s published “Terms of Use”, which includes a section titled, “Contributing Content to The SAN PEDRO VALLEY NEWS-SUN.” As the section explains:

“All users are encouraged to contribute information and pictures to The SAN PEDRO VALLEY NEWS-SUN. All contributions will be accepted for publication on the website provided they adhere to these rules [of which Ms. Collazo’s advertisement appears to be in violation numbers 1 and 3 of the seven rules]:

1. “You agree not knowingly submit any false, defamatory, abusive, obscene, threatening, racially offensive, sexually explicit or illegal material to the website.

3.“You may not submit information that is libelous or defamatory or that discloses private or personal matters concerning any person.”

By running Ms. Collazo’s advertisement, the News-Sun would appear to be complicit in her attempt to smear the Benson City Council, others, and me. Journalism and newspapers are supposed to illuminate our world and help spread truthful information. Unfortunately, the News-Sun appears to have forgotten this by allowing its pages and website to be a forum for the type of ad hominem, vindictive and nasty attacks that are all too often the norm on websites and social media. Has the News-Sun now become no different than web and social media sites in which people of ill will can target others with untrue, unsubstantiated and highly personalized attacks?

Third, Ms. Collazo’s advertisement and the decision by the News-Sun to run it fosters an environment of intolerance, bias, and marginalization of certain people, such as me, who are portrayed as outside the bounds of civilized society. This has potentially serious implications. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has developed material to help identify “escalation of bias and hate,” including what the group calls the “Pyramid of Hate.” According to the ADL, “As with a physical pyramid, the upper levels are supported by the lower levels. If people or institutions treat behaviors on the lower levels as being acceptable or ‘normal,’ the behaviors at the next level become more acceptable. Conversely, addressing and challenging biased attitudes and behaviors conveys the message that they are unacceptable, and this can interrupt the escalation.”

It is clear where Ms. Collazo stands with her attempt, through her advertisement, to normalize negative attitudes about me as someone who is outside the societal rules, customs and even laws. But where does the News-Sun stand with regard to Ms. Collazo’s attempt to foster this perception and the potentially serious implications of doing so? Where does Wick Communications, the owner of the News-Sun, stand on Ms. Collazo’s advertisement and the serious issues it raises?

Brian Seasholes is executive director of the Southwestern Communities Coalition.

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