The anti-airport El Toro Airport Information Site (www.eltoroairport.org), a site we've written about quite positively in the past, regularly reprints copies of Anthony Pignataro's El Toro Airport Watch, a column that more regularly appears in the Weekly. Recently, site editor Leonard Kranser decided not to post two columns that were somewhat critical of the anti-airport movement. One, published Jan. 15, questions the wisdom of putting Taxpayers for Responsible Planning's Bill Kogerman in charge of a new proposed ballot measure, the Safe and Healthy Communities Act; Kogerman had led the failed 1996 campaign for the anti-airport Measure S. The Jan. 22 column discusses the hiring of pro-development consultant Tom Shepard by the anti-airport movement.
Kranser notified members of the El Toro Coalition, the anti-airport group of which he is chairman, of his decision in an e-mail on Jan. 24. "The Web site team has elected to not post Pignataro's past two pieces because they hurt the coalition's ballot plans," he wrote. "We will hold off to see if he resumes printing helpful columns. His latest pieces are very harmful to the team-building progress made by the coalition."
For Kranser, the decision was simple. "Anthony printed an article [on the Healthy Communities Act] that was based on leaked documents [from the coalition] that we considered highly confidential," he said. "It was very distressing to read in the press that which people were sworn not to share. We were all very upset. And I certainly didn't want to publish it and provide additional dissemination to information that we really didn't want disseminated in the first place. I recognize that newspapers want to publish news, but it still hurt. People who get leaked on don't appreciate it."
The Weekly was not the only paper working on the story; two days before Pignataro's article came out, The Orange County Register published an article on Supervisor Tom Wilson "proposing" the ballot measure as a good way to fight the airport, although the Weekly article was the first to identify the act by name.
This was not the first time Kranser had refused to post Weekly articles he felt were critical of the anti-airport movement. Two years ago, according to Pignataro, Kranser refused to post a cover story on Larry Agran, another anti-airport activist, unless he could delete portions of the article that criticized Kogerman; the Weekly declined. In 1997, he turned down another piece by Weekly writer R. Scott Moxley on right-wing attorney William Hart, who was representing Leisure World in its suit against the airport.
Pignataro thinks Kranser's refusal to publish Weekly stories that criticize his movement is a tactical mistake. "There's no doubt in my mind that the county's El Toro Airport plans are a disaster," he said. "But I'm a reporter, not an activist. The only way I feel that I'm honest and ethical is if I investigate and write about everyone in my sphere of interest. Len wants to win, which is fine. But his fear of allowing residents and citizens who aren't part of the opposition's inner circles to read about internal politics reduces his site to nothing more than propaganda."
Kranser, not surprisingly, disagrees. "The El Toro Airport Info Site tries hard to carry material from a variety of sources," he said. "Some of what we report is good news for the anti-airport side, and some is bad. We strive to be objective but don't feel the need to hurl bricks at both sides in absolutely equal numbers. We volunteer our time because we want our side to win."
At issue is a fundamental disagreement on strategy, then. Kranser seems to feel reports of internal dissension would weaken his cause and expose his allies-a few grassroots organizations, captious city governments, and South County residents who don't want to see their towns turned into the same Eliot-esque wasteland that surrounds LAX. They face some fearsome enemies: billionaire developers; rich Newport Beach socialites tired of fly-bys from John Wayne Airport over the Spanish-tile roofs of their million-dollar homes; and county government, which appears willing to fold, spindle and mutilate the truth in order to get its pet project built.
On the other hand, it's possible that shutting down debate is precisely the opposite of what's needed in the anti-airport coalition. Without vigorous debate, a just cause-and Kranser's cause is just-can founder on the bad decisions of its insulated leadership. If there's no one around to point out that not only does the emperor have no clothes, but also that his nakedness is horrifying to look upon, how can the movement correct its blunders?
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Kranser, Kogerman, Agran and the rest are fighting the good fight, even if they don't always agree on how to wage it. Honest, open criticism of their missteps could serve to strengthen their cause, not tear it apart.
Whether that criticism should appear on the El Toro Airport Info Site is, of course, up to Kranser.
"He can post whatever he wants to," Pignataro said. "It's his site."
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