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John_and_the_Pharisees.jpg by Simon Pulsifer
I recently made a rather disturbing comment in my local newspaper.
Disturbing to my local columnist, that is. So much so, that he forwarded it to his managing editor. That afternoon, I received a message from her "IPhone" indicating that I, like anyone else, was welcome to express my views by writing a "Letter to the Editor." I guess she thought I was hiding behind my pseudonym, and she wanted to "out" me.
She totally missed my point.
The columnist wrote about voting NO on the state bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
I wrote back on a broader point than that topic of importance to many. I I wrote that a mere "comment" in the comments section, or even a Letter to the Editor, which is short and highly edited, was in my opinion not fair journalism. My issue was that in our local newspaper, which reflects small-town thinking and actions, the columnists are given free reign to voice their "conservative" opinions, but opposing views are not allowed equal, full-length exposure.
That must have hit a judgmental nerve in the authoritarian beast!
Censorship comes in many forms. This was not the day of reckoning for me or my comment. My comment was posted, and I copy it here:
The Power of the Pen Is Great.
The conservative nature of this privately held newspaper is dependent upon readership and sponsorship, yet there are many with additional views on topics as controversial as this one, that do not have the "bully pulpit" of the local newspaper.
I, as a reader with conservative views at times, and progressive, at times, would like to see more balance in prominent print.
Alternative views are expressed only in the comment or Letter to the Editor sections, and perhaps Facebook. These expressions of opinion are not held equal to the traditional columnists. Why?
We have many good writers in the community who deserve the forum as well. Seek them out.
To expand with the changing views of the populace, and to include other opinions equally, I suggest that a professionally written column be dedicated to "the alternative point of view."
Sharing new ideas and expressing newer choices of thought are the sign of a great growing media.
It is time to think and act "out of the box."
We pay for subscriptions as well, and deserve to be heard on equal footing.
Wisdom allows freedom of expression with no harm.
I was disturbed that a topic as important as sexual equality in the USA was not presented in a fair and balanced way for those who are limited by time or finances to reading the "hometown paper."
This is not the only topic that the censor-minded editors in my community have determined not to present equally. Add to the list the internal corruption of the area's governmental management; or the constant stroking and ballot-box stuffing of local boards with heavy-handed actions taken for their own benefit and in complete disregard of the community. You get the idea.
The paper demonstrates an editorial double-standard in accepting the violent personal attacks of its columnists but reversing itself completely when a perceived "attack" is directed to the column's author. Discrimination is quite normal here. I have commented many times about the need for peaceful discourse, yet no action was ever taken to suppress hurtful language except when it was leveled against the columnist.
The newspaper praises as great progress projects that harm Mother Earth for no purpose but greed; defines as "fiscal responsibility" closing schools and firing teachers of the arts; and leaves unchallenged the use of taxpayer money for private benefit. It promotes "public" meetings that are held at times when you know no one who is working, poor, or old can show up--and then brazenly states that the public had a voice in deciding the issues at stake.
In expressing your opinions in the newspaper, you can obliterate a fellow commenter, but if you justly accuse the press or the city management of abuse of power, you will be WHACKED!
As for my own challenge over the newspaper's editorial fairness, I think Sheryl Sandberg, the author of "Lean In," would have been proud! Backed by the assertiveness I'd gained in my former corporate experience, I dug deep for that break-the-glass-ceiling moment of AHA!
I demanded "equal footing." Imagine that: the arrogance of the common person asking for an equal, balanced forum. I even suggested that the newspaper look for some progressive members of the community to contribute a well-written, non-offensive article that could provide some contrast with its views. It seems, however, that the paper didn't want to take the time or make the effort to broaden their audience or their writers. I should add, parenthetically, that most of the paper's current "journalists" are relatives, friends, or partners of the influential families that have "ruled" the area for over a hundred years. Moreover, they have every incentive not to give their power up now. They own all forms of media in the community, including the local radio station. These local outlets still serve as the "mass media" in the area, a situation that is rare these days, anywhere.
Every View Should Have Its Voice.
Folks in my small town are a mix of conservative and progressive. I think it is a travesty to censor any voice that speaks with harm to none, expresses itself in a clear, concise, and thoughtful manner, and inspires others to compassionate action.
Yet, a challenge to the "status quo" in the little burg I live in ruffles feathers. Are the feathers those of the predators, or of the doves? I propose that we are a community of both, and both have been ruffled. The doves have been shut out of the game for so many years--not even allowed to enter it, much less join in the play--that they have a plausible excuse for being tired and brain dead.
I admit that I am one of the few with the interest, time and guts to write fearlessly. Someone has to be the canary in the coal mine. That is almost literally true here, since the area is "undermined" with old coal mines and nuclear waste dumps.
The oppression and suppression of free expression has had its consequences, most publicly with the youth in the area. Recently in our community, drugs, drinking, vandalism, and even murder have become part of the scene. The problems are growing, because the community refuses to allow the "others" to have a voice and a legitimate forum to express themselves. Unresolved anger and fear are rampant, yet hidden behind mental and physical illness, arrogance, deceit, brutal competition, violence and discrimination. B-B gun clubs, funded with public money and taught by police officers, flourish and receive glowing reviews in the paper. High school boards, mayors, aldermen (there are no women members) encourage bullying by their own actions and words in the public forum, with seeming lack of awareness or care.
Constructive, positive growth does not occur in a glass jar with the lid tightly shut. No one can breathe or escape. There is no life in such an environment. Everything eventually dies--as this area has over the last forty years with dwindling jobs, brain drain, and migrating youth.
I say, wake up, sleeping small-town columnists, editors, and reading public. An inflexible power structure controlling mind and media has been the norm in the past. But now, it's time to support the enlightened voices in your community and honor "the challengers." They keep the community alive, thriving, and informed. Change is inevitable, so aim to make things better. Join us with with your writings in all forums, making sure they do no harm, are well written, and don't attack anyone. And expect and demand that they all be printed, even when they don't agree with the majority.
La Mode Artistique by PKM
I have yet to receive the editor's response to my follow-up message.
We are the voices crying in the desert for love, peace, harmony, prosperity and the coming of better times here in America. We are here in the small towns with oppressive systems that deserve challenging. We do recognize the power of the media to inform or censor.
It is ultimately their choice, yet we must find our voices.
We ALL breathe, or none of us do, even in small-town America
"If you keep killing John the Baptist, no one will recognize the Christ when (s)he comes."
Perhaps only the "progressive conservatives" will see that the messiah is the one within, with or without John the Baptist.