Wenatchee World editorial sparks protest

Tamra Hively, right, Wenatchee, protests with about 90 others in front of The Wenatchee World building on Mission Street by 10:30 a.m. on Monday. Most were with the group Indivisible Wenatchee and were there to disagree with a Sunday editorial by Publisher Jeff Ackerman.

WENATCHEE — About 100 people showed up outside The Wenatchee World on Monday morning to protest a Sunday editorial column by Publisher Jeff Ackerman.

In his column, Ackerman said the scrutiny U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has faced over allegations of sexual assault is politically driven. He criticized the "court of public opinion."

"The foundation of our legal system is presumed innocence," he wrote. "Under that principle, Kavanaugh did not do what his last-minute accuser Christine Blasey Ford says he did 36 years ago, when they were both in high school. It's not up to Kavanaugh to prove he did not sexually assault his accuser. He already denied it, so the burden of proof is hers."

Even then, he said, it would be a "he said, she said" situation that shouldn't be enough to disqualify Kavanaugh — "by most all accounts a great man" who has already undergone an extensive vetting process.

Indivisible Wenatchee organized Monday's protest. A few people said they especially took issue with a list of questions near the end of the column that Ackerman posed for the "perfect" Supreme Court candidate, including whether they ever lost their car keys or opened a Christmas gift early.

"Forever, women have been afraid to come forward. This editorial just makes it even harder," Indivisible member Suellen Harris said. "It makes it like you're going to be laughed at if you come forward, that it's no more important than cheating at golf. … He wrote this as a political article, that somehow a woman coming forward demanding justice for a sexual assault is strictly political."

Harris said she can't remember another large-scale protest outside The Wenatchee World.

She said Indivisible submitted a letter with over 200 signatures to Wick Communications CEO Francis Wick, asking for an apology and for Ackerman to be reprimanded.

"We're hoping to get Ackerman to change his tone," she said. "We would like a retraction. We would like an apology for making a serious issue a joke. There are some who want him fired. … We disagree with Ackerman a lot, but this is the first time we feel his editorial has done very specific harm to women."

In response to the protest, Ackerman noted that his column appeared on the opinion page and that everyone has a constitutional right to express his or her opinion. He said he stands by his editorial.

"Can't think of anything I would have changed, although you always go back and see opportunities for additions," he said. "I might have focused more on how his reputation was being dragged through the mud, or how accusations without evidence are enough to ruin a man's reputation today."

Signs urged people to stop "normalizing" and "mansplaining" sexual assault. Aretha Franklin's version of "Respect" played as vehicles passed, with several drivers honking or waving in support.

"The entire editorial was just such a shocking trivialization of the experiences of women," Indivisible member Lael Isola said. "It's just an example of what women go through."

Barbara Flick, of Wenatchee, said she canceled her Wenatchee World subscription after 11 years and will instead donate to a women's resource center or civil rights organization.

"My money that I would spend on the subscription is now going elsewhere," she said. "I feel sorry for the carriers and the reporters because, if the paper folds, then your livelihood is in jeopardy. But I don't know how else to get my point across that this is totally unacceptable."

Lori Nitchals, of Wenatchee, said she isn't sure whether to cancel her subscription. However, she said she'd like Ackerman to apologize in print and to donate to an organization like SAGE, a local domestic violence and sexual assault crisis center.

Ackerman said he would never trivialize sexual assault, but that in order to do so, one must assume the assault occurred.

"As far as I know today, it didn't," he said. "Not if you presume innocence until proven guilty. And how do you prove a negative? Is he supposed to prove it didn't happen? Unfortunately, Mr. Kavanaugh has already been painted with that brush."

Isola said freedom of speech doesn't mean someone else can't respond.

"We definitely are big supporters of First Amendment rights, and we would support anyone's right to say and to write whatever it is they want," she said. "But for too long, women have received those messages in silence and not responded. I think that time is over, and we very much have a right to respond to what he has to say."