Daily Show on Michigan Bridge Controversy

The Daily Show did a segment on the controversy over a proposed bridge between Detroit and Canada, a story that intersected with my life and previous work with the Michigan Messenger in several ways. First, watch the video and then I’ll fill in the details.

Okay, a little background. As the video says, Matty Maroun owns the Ambassador Bridge. And he’s been trying to get approval to build a second span of that bridge to carry more traffic. But the government of Canada has offered to pay instead for a publicly-owned bridge, which Maroun wants to stop because, obviously, it would compete with his current bridge and stop his plan to build another one (from which he earns a great deal of money, of course). Gov. Rick Snyder and the legislature, somewhat surprisingly, support the public bridge.

Last year, Maroun launched a campaign to pass a referendum on Nov. 6 to require a public vote before this new public bridge could be built. The message of that campaign was “Let the people decide.” And I was actually rather surprised that it failed by a pretty wide margin, 59-41. Somehow in that video the Daily Show says that this vote means Detroiters don’t want a public bridge, which makes no sense at all. The referendum was in opposition to the bridge, so the no vote on it was a vote in support of the bridge.

When I was editor of the Michigan Messenger, we never really touched this story except to report very basic facts, like reporting on actions taken by the legislature, because I had a bit of a conflict of interest. One of my oldest friends works for Matty Maroun. In fact, as a vice president of Maroun’s company and his head of governmental relations, he ran the campaign for the referendum and against the public bridge. I disagree with him entirely on this issue, but we remain good friends and it put me in a somewhat awkward position. So we stayed away from the story for the most part.

The other thing in the video that jumps out is that Malik Shabazz is in it. Shabazz is the leader of the New Black Panther Nation/New Marcus Garvey Movement (not to be confused with the New Black Panther Party, which is run by Malik Zulu Shabazz) in Detroit. Shabazz is a black separatist and during the 2010 campaign for governor, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s campaign put out a list of people who had endorsed him and it included Shabazz. We were working on a story about that when all hell broke loose with the Bernero folks over it.

Perhaps I should explain that Virg Bernero, while I like some of his politics, is something of an asshole and he tends to hire assholes as well. His administration spokesperson and his campaign spokesperson, both of whom I had to deal with many times as editor of the Messenger, were two of the most difficult people to handle that I have ever encountered. The campaign spokesperson, Jermaine Dickens, pretty much lost his mind when he found out we were going to do a story about them publicly promoting the endorsement of a black separatist minister.

I spent a good two hours in a very tense conversation with Dickens while we were working on the story, with him literally yelling at me about it (and me yelling back at times). He threw out one bad argument after another, none of which were remotely convincing as to why we shouldn’t publish the story, and then he actually gave Shabazz my phone number (without permission) and Shabazz called me. He threw out more bad arguments about it. The fact is that a candidate for governor announcing the endorsement of a black separatist is a legitimate story, just like accepting the support of a white separatist would be a legitimate story. And we ran with it (we also published a statement from Shabazz, word for word, along with it). And after we published the story, and after arguing with me that there’s nothing wrong with the endorsement for hours, they suddenly put out a press release saying that the whole thing was a mistake, that Shabazz did not endorse Bernero at all, he wasn’t endorsing anyone, and that he only ended up on the list because of a miscommunication. And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

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