Craft beer, Facebook, personal destruction: A morality tale

newspaperThe politics of personal destruction now define all manner of social interactions in the era of the right to be righteously outraged. And woe upon you if you happen to stray into the line of the rhetorical flamethrowers.

This happened to us this week over a generated controversy regarding an event at a local craft brewer that raised the ire of a political activist group.

The “Wife day care center” event at Stable Craft Brewing was billed as a chance for husbands to “go golfing, go boating, relax, have silence … (d)rop her off!” A similar event marketed toward women came and went without issue.

Members of the SAW Citizen Action Network group, which gained a strong local following in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election cycle, growing to more than 1,000 members, raised issue with the “Wife day care center” event on Facebook on Monday, first requesting that the event be canceled, and then, when Stable Craft did remove a Facebook post promoting the event, taking the issue further, bringing the matter to the attention of local media outlets, ostensibly to extract a more public pound of flesh.

One outlet, The News Leader, took the bait, ultimately devoting 900-plus words to the matter, in the process sparking a spirited debate among the wider community, with a clear split in opinions on the event, the marketing, the motives of those trying to make it into a controversy, their favorite local craft beers, and the rest.

In the end, nobody came out looking great here, including us here at Augusta Free Press, with the story in the Leader quoting a leader of the movement to the effect that AFP, as an entity, had contacted her to get to “soften (her) stance,” intimating that the effort on our part had something to do with a business relationship between AFP and Stable Craft.

Full disclosure: AFP does have a business relationship with Stable Craft. We designed the brewery’s website, and have assisted with PR and marketing strategy on several specific, dated projects.

But the contact that the news story referenced wasn’t a PR and marketing project. It was a personal call from my wife, Crystal, reaching out to Jennifer Kitchen, the founder of the SAW movement, trying to play the role of peacemaker.

Background there is that Crystal had been a member of the SAW group when it launched in 2017, leaving the group when she took a job as a state director for a national mental-health non-profit, for the purpose of removing potential perceived conflicts for being a member of a political action group, but still has several close friends as members.

We also count the owners of Stable Craft, Nikki and Craig Nargi, as close friends, and Crystal, watching the issue with the Facebook event play out online, thought that maybe she could connect with Kitchen, not online, where things can sometimes get misconstrued, but one-on-one, to try to relate her personal feelings on the matter, to the effect that the event had already been removed, certainly no one creating the event had meant to offend anyone, so hadn’t the group already reached its goal?

That’s it. Innocent enough. Though the initial news report made it read like Crystal called identifying herself as a marketing person trying to strong-arm the activist into backing off, which, yeah, if that were true, that looks bad, on AFP, on Stable Craft.

For whatever reason, the reporter failed to try to contact AFP to verify even that the conversation described in the article had even taken place, which, man, that’s exposure right there. Had that basic tenet from Journalism 101 been followed, then, the initial story would have at the least reflected that two people have conflicting accounts on the nature of that phone call, and maybe the reporter, being able to weigh both sides, would have decided to leave that part of the story on the cutting-room floor.

To the paper’s credit, the story was edited to clarify, and so what if it still looks to some people that AFP tried to strong-arm an activist into backing down from her public crusade against a soulless local business?

That there’s more than enough collateral damage to go around is a sign of the times of where we are in present-day America, where we get our go negative or go home style of interpersonal relations honestly, which is to say, straight from the top.

Negative campaigning has been around since the early days of the Republic, which I note for those who think Donald Trump, who thinks people who don’t stand and applaud his every word are treasonous and takes to Twitter like a teen-ager to attack his millions of enemies, real and perceived, invented it out of the thin air.

Generated controversy moves the needle these days, on the right, on the left, for the few left in the middle, even. I get press releases every few minutes from groups in Richmond, D.C. and elsewhere highlighting the latest mis-statement of fact or churlish invective to come from this politician or that public official. If you’ve ever been a member of an activist group or donated money to a political candidate, you no doubt get fundraising emails based off these press releases, asking you to donate $50 to make the evildoers go away.

The shame of it is when we see this politics of personal destruction being brought into play down to the local level. I guess it’s inevitable, that what some people see working to demonize Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Democrats, Republicans, the left, the far right, can also work to demonize a local city council member, a local business, a local media outlet, what have you.

Those caught up in our little local saga, us included, will dust ourselves off and be OK, in the end. The SAW Citizen Action Network will continue to advocate, Stable Craft will continue to brew and sell craft beer, Augusta Free Press will continue to publish news, design websites and work with businesses on marketing campaigns.

But I do think we’d all be a little better off if we could leave the personal destruction nonsense to the professional flamethrowers.

And then, if we could all agree to ignore the professional flamethrowers …

Yeah, I’m asking too much there.

Story by Chris Graham

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