This one’s been a spellbinder, with most of the egg fragments splattered in the vicinity of News and Tribune publisher Bill Hanson’s face.
I’ll get back to that in a moment.
Over the years NA Confidential has had much to say about the peculiar local institution known as Harvest Homecoming, not all of it positive.
However, even critics must concede the usefulness of the Harvest Homecoming organization’s stance on political neutrality, especially during election cycles. Given the festival’s business model, neutrality makes perfect sense. It’s better for inclusiveness, and inclusiveness is better for the bottom line.
So it transpired that local Democrats started tittering at having stolen a march on the dreaded GOP by sneaking a blatant “Vote Democrat” campaign ad onto the cover of the Harvest Homecoming guide, as published by the News and Tribune, which didn’t think for even a millisecond to consult the festival’s leadership before cashing the check — thus doing something never previously done, and quite visibly breaking faith.
It’s worth noting that it was Clark County’s Democrats financing the ad for a Floyd County event, which tells us two things: First, though mistaken in this instance, at least Clark County Democrats have a pulse; second, that Floyd County Democrats must still be behind on their office phone bills, and they might even owe their landlord back rent.
Their landlord being Warren Nash, party guru and human rights commission doorstop, it must be hard looking at the stack of greenbacks in the mayor’s campaign fund and knowing you’ll be recycling aluminium soda cans to keep Duke Energy at bay.
Harvest Homecoming quickly issued a statement reasserting the organization’s political neutrality, concisely and correctly throwing the newspaper under the bus.
For many years that space has been purchased by a local car sales company. This year, they opted to not purchase the ad. With the space up for grabs, The Tribune sold the ad to the Democratic party. This is was completely out of our control and I was not aware of the advertisement until it was published.
By the way, the subtle dig is stupendous: it’s not the Tribune any longer, after all, but the News and Tribune, a compound name reminding us daily about the way New Albany is routinely shortchanged in coverage by a newspaper doing business in Jeffersonville.
Shamed into public comment, Hanson couldn’t even manage to pen a personal apology. Instead, Chris Morris was enlisted to “interview” his own boss (below), which tells you everything you need to know about the shambles overtaking this persistently misdirected enterprise.
Meanwhile, the social media response of most Democrats has been to defend the ad placement and deride Republicans who have complained about it.
Can you imagine what these same Democrats would be saying if the advertisement looked like this?
The hypocrisy isn’t surprising at all, just indicative of the depths we’re plumbing.
The point remains: Harvest Homecoming has the right to declare political neutrality, and the News and Tribune has a professional responsibility to honor it. Hanson’s masked apology is maladroit, but at least he did what he should have done.
The rest of it is the usual partisan fluff, which should be deposited in history’s dustbin prior to the inevitable excursion to Harvest Homecoming to ingest sugar doughnuts and rolled oysters.
And now, the editor who typically asks no questions interviews the publisher who’d rather not answer any.
The Harvest Homecoming Festival is preparing for its 51st year in downtown New Albany. It has grown from a few tables set up along Pearl Street to become one of the largest festivals in the state of Indiana. People look forward to it each year.
The Harvest Homecoming means a lot to the people of Southern Indiana.
But throughout its history the volunteers who operate the festival have never endorsed a candidate or one political party over another. The Harvest Homecoming Festival is independent and appreciates support from Democrats, Republicans, independents and others. It has never been thrown into the muck and mud of politics.
This year the News and Tribune published its annual Harvest Homecoming guide on Sept. 28. The tab is full of festival information, including a schedule of events, booth listings and photos of past festivals.
But it’s the cover that has gotten the most attention, and it has nothing to do with the photo of Mr. Pumpkin. The confusion is with the banner advertisement, paid for by the Clark County Democrats, reads “Vote Democrat” and runs along the bottom of the cover.
The ad’s background color is dark brown, the same as the rest of the cover, so it blends in, making it look like the festival is asking readers to vote Democrat or that the guide was produced by the Clark County Democrats. Neither is true.
“The tab is a product of the News and Tribune and reflects in no way the beliefs of the Harvest Homecoming committee or the event itself,” News and Tribune Publisher Bill Hanson said. “The News and Tribune regrets the uproar it has created among some and accepts all blame anyone wishes to assign.”
The cover is prime advertising space, and in the past has been sold to an area car dealer. In the future, no political ads will be sold on publications such as the Harvest Homecoming guide to avoid confusion.
“I want to apologize for our lack of good judgment in allowing a political party to purchase the ad space on the cover of this year’s Harvest Homecoming special edition,” Hanson said. “Given our current political climate, we should have been more discerning. Lesson learned at the News and Tribune.”
— Assistant Editor Chris Morris