Michigan Columnist Canned After Column Rips American Automakers

By: Joe Strupp

A Michigan newspaper columnist who was fired Tuesday claims his dismissal was punishment for a column he wrote on Saturday criticizing American cars.

James Briggs, a former columnist and news editor at The Daily Telegram of Adrian, Mich., says the publisher canned him for writing the column that upset auto dealers and others so close to Detroit’s auto manufacturing power houses. The publisher told E&P that auto advertisers did complain, but says there’s more to it than that.

“I was in a meeting with my boss [editor Mark Lenz] and the publisher came in and berated me for half an hour,” Brigg said, describing the Tuesday morning meeting at the afternoon paper. “He said I needed to understand the consequences of what I wrote.”

What he wrote was a column in Saturday’s paper that described his decision to switch from driving an American car to a foreign model. “Maybe I’m hitting a late rebellious streak. Maybe I’m simply unpatriotic, ungrateful or un-American,” the column said, in part. “Or maybe the domestic automakers have slipped so far down that purchasing an American vehicle has become moronic. I’ll go with that answer.”

Briggs, 24, said he received no feedback from the newspaper until Tuesday morning when Publisher Paul Heidbreder approached him during his meeting with Lenz. “He said it was insensitive for me to write such a column given our proximity to the Big Three [automakers],” Briggs said. “He tried to get me to at least apologize and I was not going to apologize because I believe what I wrote.”

Lenz, who did not respond to a request for comment, reviewed the column prior to publication, Briggs said. The column is still up on the paper’s Web site as of Wednesday afternoon.

The former columnist said he was summoned to another meeting with the publisher later that day where he was dismissed. He said Heidbreder claimed the paper had lost upwards of $100,000 in auto ads because of the column.

The publisher told E&P today the termination was not based solely on the column. He also said no advertising had been lost so far, although some auto dealers had threatened to pull ads.

“The auto dealers threat was not what led to his termination,” said Heidbreder, who has been publisher since early June. “His account of the events is inaccurate. But I am not going to comment further on personnel matters.” The publisher also contends that when he fired Briggs, he offered to give him an explanation, but the columnist said he did not need one.

As the column states, Briggs said he wanted to write the piece to show his disgust with American cars after owning at least three General Motors vehicles, starting with a Chevy pick-up he bought from his grandfather, a former GM employee.

“I thought it would be an interesting column because we are so close to Detroit,” Briggs said today. “I am also sick of people around here making other people feel bad for purchasing a foreign vehicle. I don’t agree with it.”

The Daily Telegram is owned by Liberty Group Publishing of Northbrook, Ill., and has a daily circulation of 15,374.

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