Once upon a time, I am told that the letters-to-the-editor, opinion pages, and comments pages actually did have an impact on public discourse. If such a time existed, of course, it is long past.
Recently reading a local daily newspaper’s comment section (where people can share their ‘two cents’ worth’), I was struck by not just how people behaved, but how lies and vicious accusations have replaced civil discourse and any attempts to seek and expound on truth.
It was reminiscent of how modern religious organizations expect that preaching to the congregation (rather than reaching out to those outside the group) accomplishes anything but reaffirmation of the core constituency.
Yes, I realize that all too often, even The Price of Liberty commentary falls into this situation: the most loyal readers are those already convinced of the value of liberty and know the price that must be paid for it. Too few who are seeking to learn about freedom find and read the commentary.
We do strive, here at TPOL, to at least be accurate in reporting and commenting on events, both historical and current. Too many people who still post comments or write letters-to-the-editor seem to find such ethical considerations beneath them. Or at least to be ignored when they are beating up on their political enemies.
A fresh claim that the Uvalde killer was able to buy his guns without background checks is the latest of such lies written (and accepted) by a media outlet. Though debunked within hours, even by the usual politically-correct “fact-checkers), the lie was still posted and left unchallenged. Of course the same edition that let that bald-faced lie be published also had a couple of thousand words in an article (presented as news – that is fact, not opinion) extolling the success of the California (and other States’) red flag warnings. An article clearly intended to sway the opinions in the publication’s local market – two very “red” States.
I suppose that there may be a very small portion of the populace (and the electorate) who could be swung one way or another by such screeds: perhaps 3-5%? But for the remaining 95-98%? Little or no chance of changing their views on guns and the right to keep and bear arms. (Well, of course, at least a third of that number: the other two-thirds apparently are unable to form an opinion or have any concern about virtually all political and social issues. Or so we are told.)
So why write such things? First, it is a release of pressure to DO something – giving in to the natural human impulse to stand up and scream about something you care about. Second, we all have the fond hope that something we say or write WILL change the opinion, and the lives, of people who are intellectually honest and willing to at least listen to reason. The third, less noble reason? We were taught since childhood that it is an obligation to stand up and speak out, and that it does make a difference.
But there is also a fourth reason, even less admirable. It is because too many of us are unwilling to reach out and engage personally and in earnest with our political adversaries. Too lazy, perhaps.
Think about these things!
The local paper used to print my letters because they caused people to think and question. Now with the new person in charge, she has told me never, because she did not like my opinion.
This may also be a reason to explain some of the current attitude and why Tom doesn’t see as much difference. The growing lack of professionalism – including professional ethics – on the part of newspaper publishers, editors, and writers. And one of my folks here reminded me that some of this is likely cyclic. Newspapers in the 1800s and early 1900s (including the era of yellow journalism) were far more aggressive and casual with the truth than we thought was the case in the 1960s and 1970s.
I’ve been reading — and writing for — editorial, op-ed, and letters sections of newspapers for nearly 50 years now (well, more like 40 on the writing side), and I can’t say that I’ve noticed any great changes in tone or tactics.
Tom, perhaps it varies by location and type of publication. I began reading LTE and commentary about as long ago as you – back in 1970, when I began working for a small rural/frontier weekly newspaper in the Eastern Plains of Colorado while still in high school. I think I wrote my first opinion piece later that year, and my first LTE (to another newspaper) the next year or so, and continued doing so through college graduation about 1979, but didn’t do any of that while on active duty. Most of my reading and writing was to small-town papers, especially here in the last 30 years and involved with various projects as part of our company’s work. I have seen a significant increase in the outright lies, and a far more aggressive attitude just in the last couple of decades. Some of this is perhaps due to the advent of social media and the increase anonymity. My family – although not involved as long in these sorts of activities and in their own spheres of expertise – has noticed this as well. What do you think?
I’m not sure what to think …
I started writing (not op-ed stuff, club notices) for my local small-town daily when I was 12 (circa 1979), then my junior high, high school, and college papers, then did a lot of op-ed writing for a 60k-circulation daily in a mid-size city in the 1990s (I was even a “community representative” on their editorial board), and for the last 20 years or so, op-eds are mostly what I do, submitted to about 1,300 local papers nationwide, a number of which run some of my columns with some regularity.
I try to keep my pulse on the papers — mainly the ones that use my stuff — and I can’t say that the op-ed content of e.g. the Batesville, Mississippi Panolian, or the Wilson, North Carolina Times, or the Wahpeton, North Dakota Daily News these days strikes me as any more false or venomous than the same type of content in the Lebanon, Missouri Daily Record circa the 1980s or the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader circa the 1990s.
But the particular “slices” I see are different than the ones you see, so maybe one or both of us isn’t really seeing the whole picture! If so, I’d say it might be me. Papers that publish my stuff are obviously reasonably “libertarian-friendly,” so they may not look like the newspapers that don’t!
I think you are right. You operated and still do on a far larger scale than Mama Liberty or I do – the entire communities I was dealing with had total populations of less than 10,000 – and although I don’t recall circulation numbers, they were probably only a 1/10 of that. Part of it is definitely cultural and “who’s in charge” – when a local-owned/published/edited paper gets sold to a new generation of journalism grads (not in the family) or worse, a bigger corporation – the editorial policy changes a lot. (An example is the one daily, one 3xweek, and five weekly newspapers in Southwestern Colorado: the daily, 3x, and two of the three of the five weeklies are now owned by the same larger firm which though “local” is still culturally very different from the old publishers.
There’s a crap ton of “consolidation” going on. Every other week, I see that this or that independent local has been bought out by Gannett, or USA Today, or some other national or regional chain. I’m sure that affects the general editorial lines (in fact, a lot of the regional chains share their entire staffs and the only real difference is the name of the paper and maybe one page of local reporting).
That actually benefits me as an op-ed writer, because if any single USA Today or Southern California Media Group (that’s the Orange County Register’s chain) paper carries a column of mine, they ALL do. But I’m a little bit prouder, actually, when a truly local independent paper carries something of mine. They may just have a few hundred readers, but I suspect those readers pay more attention.
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