They stole the headline I would have used, but the folks at Street Roots are reporting that their membership of the Portland Business Alliance is over, following an alleged accusation of "yellow journalism" by the PBA's vice president of downtown services and chief architect of the sit/lie law Mike Kuykendall, earlier today. The alleged "yellow journalism" accusations are to do with a Street Roots editorial last week that said this:
"The police stings downtown and the PR spin making monsters out of men and women who are homeless, blaming them for realities bigger than any one person can grasp, is an embarrassment. If the same fever was put into asking the public to be patient and to educate people on why people are homeless and how to get involved and interact with people on the streets — we would be talking about truly becoming that extraordinary city on the hill."
The paper was trading ad space with the PBA in exchange for membership. Street Roots director Israel Bayer told the Mercury in June he was hoping to bolster fund raising efforts for the paper. He also promised the paper's editorial stance against the sit/lie law would not change.
"Street Roots will in no way, shape or form be beholden to the Alliance or will it change our editorial and social justice presence on important issues effecting people experiencing homelessness and poverty citywide," writes Bayer, on the paper's blog. He also adds: "Homeless groups can’t flinch or even think about working with the Portland Business Alliance in open for fear of being called sell outs or talked about in the press as being lap dogs for big interest."
What's most interesting about Kuykendall allegedly accusing the paper of "yellow journalism" today is that the PBA has done its level best to avoid the spotlight on this issue. None of its members have publicly lobbied for a new law, and public relations efforts have almost entirely been conducted via back channels.
The PBA is in a public relations mire, here. 400 regular Portlanders have now joined a Facebook group saying they don't want another version of the unconstitutional sit/lie law. They have held sidewalk picnics to counter ridiculous spin campaigns saying how unsafe downtown is. The police are, for a change, having to enforce constitutional laws downtown—and good on them for it. Nobody really cares about the unconstitutional sit/lie law being gone, except the Portland Business Alliance, perhaps (forgive the "yellow journalism") because it was a way for them to justify their expensive existence to downtown businesses and even condo owners, who pay a tax to support the PBA's lobbying activities?
The Portland Business Alliance doesn't seem to be able to come out and say it wants another sit/lie law, for the very simple reason that everybody knows the only people who really are behind it are the Portland Business Alliance. And who wants to support an unconstitutional law lobbied for only by them? If the PBA isn't able to move its policy outlook into the 21st century, I would rather see a progressive business alliance emerge in downtown Portland, one that business owners could choose to support with their Business Improvement District dollars if they so wished, that supported constitutional approaches to tackling crime instead of advocating end-runs around this country's self evident truths. Think advocacy for treatment instead of criminalization. More sidewalk ambassadors, less rent-a-cops. Meanwhile the mayor is set to meet with downtown retailers tomorrow.
"We are not parting ways," says PBA spokesperson Megan Doern, in response to the Street Roots blog. "We objected to how their editorial board portrayed the situation downtown and we are continuing to have conversations."
It's hard to see how that statement jibes with Street Roots' statement about not having its coverage influenced. We've got an email in to them for a counter response.
Update, 10:33pm Street Roots director Israel Bayer responds to Doern via email:
"Obviously, we're open to remaining members and hope that this can all be sorted out.
But our editorial content is that of Street Roots and will not be influenced by a third party. We do our best to present the news we see unfolding on the streets in a way that is engaging and respectful to the larger community. We don't think our editorial was out of line considering the circumstances. Street Roots has a responsibility to report to the best of our ability the many complexities of poverty, including civil rights.
Saying that, Street Roots believes all of us have a stake in fighting poverty in downtown and throughout the region. We respect the many businesses working to end homelessness throughout Portland. We have to all be working together. It's that simple."