The Maui Land & Pineapple Company doesn’t like you. You heard
me. It’s because you read this paper—because you’re reading this paper right now.
I’d like to say it’s nothing personal—that a company owning 22,400
acres of Maui, doing $178.9 million in sales last year and employing
more than a thousand people wouldn’t be so petty—but frankly, the
evidence says otherwise.
We found this out last week when Maui Time
Associate Editor Samantha Campos asked ML&P for a press pass so she
could attend this year’s Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, which runs
June 29 through July 1 at the Kapalua Resort. Campos attended the
festival back in 2004.
“A lot of people go for the virtually risk-free chance to sample new
wines and flavors or to meet other connoisseurs, both amateur and
professional,” Campos reported in our July 15, 2004 issue. “Others go
for the wines they know best, downing them repeatedly while they see
familiar faces and talk excitedly about geographical conditions, like
the world being flat. Me, I’m more of the less talking, more tasting
kind of crowd.”
Two years later, Campos wrote a preview story on the festival, in
which she advised you, our readers: “don’t pretend to know more than
you do—picking the brains of foodies and wine experts from Germany,
Spain or Anaheim about their region and varietal is one of the best
parts of an event like this for the voracious and open-minded.”
In the news biz, we call stories like these “positive coverage.”
Newspapers who publish such stories about events generally get free
event press tickets (a pass that includes all the events of the
three-day festival costs $750). Not that we wrote stories to get free
passes—that would be unethical—but the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival
is an event we genuinely enjoy covering and feel such coverage is
important to our readers.
On Mar. 30, Campos emailed Tracy Johnson, the Public Relations
Manager for the Kapalua Resort and Maui Land & Pineapple Co.,
asking for a pass to this year’s festival. That same day, Johnson
“I’m sorry but in light of the media coverage that Maui Time Weekly
regularly prints about ML&P, we would feel uncomfortable hosting
your paper at the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival,” Johnson wrote. “I
hope you understand.”
Actually, no, we don’t understand, Campos responded on Apr. 3. “What coverage are you referring to, exactly?” she asked.
Johnson elaborated a few hours later. “Attached is a sampling of the
recent articles and letters to the editor that have been published in
only the past few weeks,” she wrote.
Johnson’s email included four Maui Time
stories. One was the Mar. 15, 2007 edition of my column Coconut
Wireless which contained exactly two sentences on the company. The
other three attachments were editions of our Letters to the Editor
Two of the editions were also published in March. They contained a
couple letters critical of Maui Land & Pine’s decision to develop
its land overlooking Honolua Bay. The last story sent over by Johnson
threw me at first. It contained just a single letter to the editor that
criticized me for criticizing ML&P in an earlier story on the
company’s problems with toxic water in West Maui. I couldn’t figure out
why ML&P would have a problem with this, until I reread my
response, in which I exposed the letter-writer as an ML&P employee.
To be fair, the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival is a private event,
put on by ML&P, and they can give free access to whomever they
want. But to ban us because a tiny group of our readers had written us
letters criticizing ML&P development plans? Johnson could have
referred to my Aug. 24, 2006 story “Tax Breaks,” where I delved into
the County of Maui’s granting of a special, and apparently unwarranted
tax break to ML&P. Or she could have referenced my June 26, 2006
story “Moratorium Time,” which questioned how ML&P’s Pulelehua
project will affect island traffic. Then there was my Jan. 26, 2006
story “Toxic Water,” which had spurred the letter cited above.
But no. When we asked Johnson why her company wouldn’t let us attend
the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival for free, she pointed to letters
we had published from our readers.
Campos wrote back to Johnson on Apr. 4. She asked Johnson to
identify the company official or officials who made the decision to
deny us a press pass. She asked if that official or official had taken
her own, positive stories on the Kapalua Festival into consideration
when denying us the press pass.
She also asked if Maui Land & Pine would deny The Maui News press passes, since it has published far more letters to the editor critical of the company than we probably ever will.
“How disappointing it was to learn that Maui Land & Pineapple
Co. has targeted this land for wasteful development,” said Merrilee and
Mark Meyer of Rainier, Washington in the Apr. 4 Maui News. “Hasn’t it developed enough?”
Two days later, the paper published a letter from Kainoa Wilson of
Lahaina on the same subject: “Who’s going to live there?” he asked.
“The same people who live in their places on Plantation Estates? Never
saw anybody there either.”
The Apr. 7 Maui News published three more ML&P-related letters, all critical of the Honolua Bay project.
At press time, Johnson has not responded to either Campos’ last
email or a follow-up call I made to her on Apr. 9. We’ve given up on
getting a festival pass, but we’d still like to know more about why
Maui Land & Pine doesn’t like our readers.
Research by Kira Sabini. MTW