Tahlequah Daily Press

April 30, 2012

The left and the right, and news vs. opinion

Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — We have a handful of readers who grouse every time we publish a political column they deem “liberal.” We also get complaints (truthfully, not as many, and not aired with as much hostility) from those offended by columns they think are too “conservative.”

In trying to justify our position, I say – like any newspaper editor would – that we try to offer a mix of opinions, both from the left and from the right. Sometimes I add that I have access to a “liberal” column I never run because its author never has anything positive to say about a single registered Republican; similarly, there’s a conservative columnist I tire of because the topic is rarely anything but abortion, and I don’t see how it advances the conservative cause to obsess on one subject.

My responses satisfy some of the gripers, but not all. That’s because those on the extreme ends of the spectrum don’t want us to print anything with which they disagree. They don’t want to read anything that offends them philosophically. I understand that in theory; I don’t want to read anything that offends me, either, if I’m reading for pure pleasure. But when I’m looking for news – what’s going on in the world today – I want the truth, and as for opinions, I want to consider both sides before I render my own.

At one time, that was true of most Americans, but the era of rationality is long gone. Read Gene Lyons’ column elsewhere on this page for a prime example. (Those of who have labeled him a “liberal” may be surprised.) Many folks see what they want to see, and hate what they don’t understand. Of course, those on the right blame the left for this culture of discord and lack of civility; and the left similarly assigns fault to the right.

Back in 2010, Ted Koppel wrote a piece for the Washington Post that analyzes the situation perfectly. There’s no way I could improve on his words, so I’ll offer you a link here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/12/AR2010111202857.html. (A few ultra-conservatives won’t bother with it because they consider the Post a liberal rag, or a few ultra-liberals because it’s a “sell-out” – and their blanket dismissal of an important observation would sort of confirm what Mr. Koppel is saying.)

For the record, I consider myself a “moderate.” I used to be far more conservative as a young adult, because I was still under the sway of my father, who generally leans pretty far to the right. In recent years, however, the left and the right – which once were fairly close on the spectrum – have become separated by a chasm so wide I’m not sure it’s possible to design a bridge to connect them, even we enlisted the world’s top civil engineer to do the blueprint.

But even earlier, I was pushed toward the center (and sometimes left of center) when some of the views advanced by my more right-minded friends started seeming greed-based or even cruel. Then again, some of the views advanced by my far-left friends are patently unworkable, especially in today’s less-than-idyllic society.

The truth is, as Ted says, a lot of folks don’t want the truth; they want information that validates their own opinions. And if they don’t get it, they’re likely to politely cancel their subscriptions or change the channel, or not-so-politely issue a threat against the offending medium.

Lately, on the local scene, the story generating the most discussion is about a Tahlequah High School student who ran afoul of administrators by flying a Rebel flag in his pickup (it’s online).

We’ve been criticized for even printing the story, and we’ve been pushed to take a stand on this kid’s character, mostly by anonymous callers who would rather see us on the firing line than themselves. We saw it as “news” because the ACLU was investigating whether the young man’s right to expression had been violated. We did not necessarily see it as an opportunity to make a point.

Whether the kid is prejudiced or mean, as his detractors allege, or a “patriot,” as his advocates claim, is not a matter of news, but a matter of opinion. School administrators may well be onto something with their position that his act is “disruptive” to the learning environment, much like a teen girl who wears a sheer top with no bra to class. We’ll be following the story, of course, and listening to (and reporting) on what people have to say about it. Reporting something doesn’t mean we agree or disagree with the turn of events; it simply means, it happened.

Like Gene Lyons, I’m not qualified to say whether the flag-flying youngster is a bigot, since I don’t know him. Nor would I say he’s a patriot or a hero, because unfurling a cloth banner makes a person neither of those. And I suspect whatever I say on this volatile subject would land a few threats in my lap. I’m used to those, but if I’m going to render an opinion on someone’s deeply-held convictions, I’d at least like to know the person I’m analyzing.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.