The Board of Directors of the Alaska Broadcasters Association sent a local lawmaker a letter of discontent Thursday morning over misinformation he shared on his Facebook page last week that likened media and medical professionals who disseminate COVID-19 information with Nazi war criminals.
On June 21 Alaska House Rep. Ron Gillham, R-Kenai-Soldotna, shared a photo of a World War II-era public hanging, with a caption alleging the people being executed were members of the media and medical professionals in Nuremberg, Germany, who misinformed the public during the Holocaust. Along the top of the photo read: “Still so sure you want to force me to get the experimental vaccination?”
It turns out the photo, according to Project MUSE scholarly journal and Agence France-Presse, was actually taken of Nazi war criminals executed in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1946, and only one member of the media — a journalist who founded and managed an antisemitic newspaper — was put to death.
In the letter, the board members wrote that they were “dismayed” by Gillham’s Facebook post, which has since been taken down, stating that it could potentially put Alaska journalists and medical professionals at risk.
“The image you shared with your followers clearly suggests violence against journalists who report on the COVID-19 pandemic and on members of the medical community,” the letter stated. “You cannot separate your private views from your new job — you are a public figure now and you are accountable to all of the people of Alaska. Your sharing of this hate message was dangerous and irresponsible.”
In an interview on The Bird’s Eye View KSRM radio show on Thursday, Gillham said he is “not advocating [for] violence against anybody.”
“It came to my page, it looked like a history post, so I shared it,” he said on the radio show. “Maybe … sharing that post was the wrong thing, but the reason I put it out there was to show so it doesn’t happen again. I don’t deny sharing that, it just … didn’t come across like I planned.”
The lawmaker also said if he could get rid of Facebook he would, but he keeps it to connect with friends, family and his constituents.
Additionally, Gillham said many media outlets haven’t allowed space for his side of the story.
“I’ve gotten a couple of phone calls from a couple of reporters, never actually spoke to them, so they’ve got a story out there with one side — and it’s not mine,” Gillham said on the radio show.
He had not responded to Clarion phone calls requesting comment by Friday afternoon. As of Friday morning, Cathy Hiebert — the executive director of the Alaska Broadcasters Association — said she hadn’t received a response from the lawmaker.
Kim Williams, the president of the Alaska Broadcasters Association and market president of iHeartMedia, said the letter to Gillham pretty much speaks for itself.
“It’s coming from all of us equally,” she said. “We felt it necessary to take … action”
There were 12 total signatories.
Williams said the association’s main position is to defend journalists in the state, and that advocating for their safety is of the “utmost importance.” She said there have been many instances where reporters have been threatened for the work they do.
“We want to help legitimize what they do,” she said.
Edward Ulman, the president and chief executive officer of Alaska Public Media and the vice president of the Alaska Broadcasters Association, said he became aware of Gillham’s Facebook post after a coworker forwarded him the Clarion’s June 29 article.
After that, he said, the board members decided to collectively draft a letter stating their concerns.
“It was a group process,” Ulman said.
He said it felt like it was their responsibility to address any public official who propagates hate speech.
“[We wanted to] send a very clear statement that this cannot happen in a democracy,” Ulman said. “Journalists are doing democracy every day … and it’s good to remind people of that.”
Some Facebook followers have been vocal in their response to the Clarion’s article, “Lawmaker shares photo comparing media and medical officials to Nazi war criminals.” Some have stated their disdain for the website’s sensitive content disclaimer feature, equating it to censorship. Some others have voiced their continued support for Gillham.
“I’ve had my fill of FB and their bias fact checking. I can think for myself I don’t need you or them fact checking to promote your own political opinions,” one person commented.
“Our feelings don’t care about your facts …” someone else posted.
“Good for him,” said another.
The Broadcasters Association letter concludes by reiterating their disappointment with Gillham’s Facebook post.
“We condemn rhetoric that endangers the lives of journalists in communities all over Alaska,” it states. “You dishonor your position and your oath by promoting this message.”
This story has been updated.
Reach reporter Camille Botello at firstname.lastname@example.org.