Asking Tough Questions Isn’t Bias

Measure 1 proponents Susan Wefald and Dina Butcher, left, sit on a panel with opponents Geoff Simon and state Rep. Jim Kasper, right. The panel was hosted in Bismarck by the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce.

Last week I had the opportunity to moderate a debate over Measure 1 at the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce’s annual Policy Summit.

It’s a great event, and we had a great discussion, but a letter to the editor in the Fargo Forum yesterday criticized my performance as moderator.

“The first sign of this bias was the Chamber’s choice for the moderator, Rob Port, arguably the most partisan political commentator in our state today, and someone who has already viciously attacked this anti-corruption effort,” Brian Berg of Bismarck wrote. “Who really thought that he would provide a fair and balanced moderation of the discussion? It was so bad that at one point one of the panelists had to remind him that he was supposed to moderate the discussion, not actively take a side. It was as if the referee of a fight jumped in to land a couple of blows himself.”

I wish I had access to video of the panel discussion to post as I think Berg’s characterization of the event is simply inaccurate. I’ve asked the folks at the GNDC when they’ll make it available online, and they told me they’re undecided as to whether or not to post the video since it was a paid-admission event and that if they did choose to post it the video wouldn’t be available for weeks.

In my defense, I will say that I am absolutely a critic of Measure 1. I think it’s misguided public policy pushed by big donations from celebrity activists who are out to limit free speech. But I’m not sure why that should disqualify me as a moderator.

I asked some tough questions of the Measure 1 proponents on the panel, pertaining to their use of out of state money to collect signatures, and when they didn’t want to answer they instead criticized me for being a biased moderator.

I should note that at another point during the discussion I got after one of the opponents of Measure 1, state Rep. Jim Kasper of Fargo, who after arguing for nearly an hour on stage that an ethics committee is unnecessary announced that he’d be introducing legislation to create an ethics committee next year. I told Kasper that seemed opportunistic and self-serving, which it is. I think Kasper undermined his own arguments in a big way with that maneuver, and was happy to call him out on it.

I also had to interrupt the critics of the measure several times when they were speaking over the proponents. I worked very hard to ensure that both sides had ample opportunity to make their case, and that questions from the audience were included in a fulsome way as well.

I can understand why proponents of Measure 1 want to make me the issue rather than their measure. They really did a poor job overall of explaining why their measure was necessary. At one point one of the proponents, Dina Butcher, was asked for specific examples of ethical lapses in our state which would have been addressed by their measure. She declined to cite examples.

But why talk about that when we can attack the moderator?

It’s become a tactic in left wing circles in our state to try and dismiss me as some sort of right wing boogeyman. At a time when our state, and our nation, is very polarized I don’t think we can allow for that sort of attitude. We need to talk to one another. We need to engage.

I’m happy to be in the arena.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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