A parting of ways

Some may have noticed that last week’s Bristol Observer did not include David Fortier’s weekly column, “On My Mind.”

Some have learned through other sources that Mr. Fortier will no longer be writing for us. And some have expressed concern that the parting of ways was due to pressure from the mayor of this city since Mr. Fortier was a frequent and consistent critic of the mayor.

The mayor’s perceived magical powers over an independent institution is a convenient argument that overlooks facts and realities.

The first fact is that David Fortier began writing for The Observer as someone with a viewpoint but not as someone with connections to the political machinery of Bristol. He was an independent voice who had the best interests of the city at heart.

In 2013, his wife, Mary Fortier ran for city council and was elected as part of the Democratic slate.

After Mrs. Fortier’s election to this paid post, we let Mr. Fortier continue to write for us because we felt and he felt he could separate his views from the views of his wife.

In time, however, the publisher and editors made the decision that Mr. Fortier was no longer an unbiased and independent voice but was an agent of his wife and her positions

As a newspaper, this put our mission as an independent, objective voice – working with Republicans, Democrats, independents, etc. — in the community in jeopardy. This became increasingly unacceptable. We asked Mr. Fortier to refrain from writing about local politics as long as his wife was in office.

There has been some concern expressed in the community that we were infringing on Mr. Fortier’s freedom of speech by drawing a line in the sand as to what he could and could not write about. However, Mr. Fortier always was free to voice his views wherever he wants. He or any writer for The Observer just shouldn’t expect us to pay him/ her for these views —and pay for the production costs of printing those views— if those opinions put the mission of the newspaper in jeopardy.

Mr. Fortier’s increasingly obvious agenda was making it difficult for our staff members to be viewed as fair and impartial voices within the community. And his column gave the appearance that The Observer was offering tacit approval of the actions of one party over the other.

The Observer newspapers as an institution have long made it a policy of not endorsing candidates for public office. The Observer also does not allow our writers and reporters to make endorsements. We were considerably lenient in the spirit of freedom of speech with Mr. Fortier before he was redirected.

Let’s be clear. The Observer and our parent newspaper The Waterbury Republican-American have a long history—110 years— of publishing news as fairly and accurately as possible.

In Waterbury, we have covered the conviction of three mayors—two Republicans and one Democrat— for their corruption. We have done it honestly and accurately and have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize and multiple of other awards for our efforts.

We wish Mr. Fortier no ill will and will support his and any other publisher or citizen the right to the protections of the First Amendment; we are, however, looking for a new columnist to add to our report from Bristol. We seek someone who will be free of bias or partiality, an independent voice our readers can count on to cover the issues facing a great city and its community.