Swan song

Engraving by Reinier van Persijn (1615-1688)

I don’t believe in lashing out recklessly… and I don’t think that’s what you’ll find here. Instead, my opinions are based on facts and I’m not afraid to express my opposition to those who seek to distort reality.

That paragraph was part of my introduction, published in the first chapter of this column 6 ½ years ago in the Morrisons Cove Herald. I did my best to keep the car running between the lines while others did their darndest to reroute traffic into the ditch. 

But now, the time has come to forge a slightly new path.

As readers of the Morrisons Cove Herald may now know, I was informed recently that the newspaper will be refining its editorial focus, bringing an end to discussions of politics on the national level. Although I was initially disappointed, I gave it some thought and I am fully supportive of the decision. It makes sense to concentrate the paper’s opinion section on the same criteria as other coverage. Since the Herald doesn’t devote its news pages to national headlines, why would its editorial page have a different look?

In the email I received from the publisher announcing the change there was this bit of reassurance: “This is not an attempt to get  you to quit. You may continue to write a monthly column for the Herald. However, after Jan. 1, it cannot contain any political commentary unless it is hyper-local.” I can respect that, and I gave it some thought. 

In the end, I decided that, since this column has always trained its sights on national politics, it would be difficult to change horses mid-stream. So this will be the last monthly column that I will submit for print here. 

First things first

I can hear it now: “They can’t do that! What about your First Amendment rights?” Well my friends, let’s take a closer look.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (Bold highlights are the author’s.)

Notice that your right to express your opinion cannot be made illegal by the government, and we’re grateful to the founding fathers for that. However, while the amendment’s freedom of speech clause offers many protections, it doesn’t give us a blank check. Newspapers are not the government, they are businesses of commerce that are here to serve the public while carving out a living for owners and employees. Our words can’t be outlawed by our elected officials, but they can be limited in the real world. Insisting that opinion columnists follow instructions is no different than expecting sportswriters to stick to covering the games.

So fear not, my rights – and those of my fellow contributors – have not been infringed.  

Some things haven’t changed

One of my goals when I started this column was to offer an alternative to what I saw as an overabundance of harshness that was being passed off as legitimate political debate. Much of what people considered to be the truth seemed to come from dubious sources. I wanted to take a turn at bringing down the temperature, to allow us to look at situations from a logical, factual viewpoint. I made a point to look for multiple sources to back up my words and encouraged my readers to do the same.

I did my best to steer away from that which I found most disgusting: name-calling. To resort to that would be to lower my standards to those of the average uninformed Facebook poster. As much as it might satisfy a base urge to point to a foe and call him Billy McPoopypants, it adds nothing of substance. Besides, while you can get away with saying such things about national public figures, when you attack others…that’s a defamation lawsuit waiting to happen. 

It’s not enough to form an opinion and then only trust sources that agree with you. For me to do that would be a gross disservice to my readers. When posting to my website, I’ve faithfully included links to sources. (More on that later.) Sadly, there are too many commentators who fill their pages – and their radio shows and television appearances – with purposely distorted information while attacking their rivals with the childish zeal of playground bullies. They count on their audiences to be too busy (or, unfortunately, too lazy) to fact-check. That’s how the lies gain traction.

Even worse, they do it under the guise of self-declared patriotism. To those false prophets, I offer this definition from Mark Twain:

Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.”

You can’t bargain with the truth

As I wrote in that first column, “Listen, really listen, to what people are saying.” It has always been my goal to speak clearly, to be as devoted to the truth as humanly possible, and to call out those who gleefully mislead others for power and profit. And while I will no longer do so from the pages of this newspaper, I expect to stay the course, posting to my blog as often as possible. 

The address to my website is found at the end of this column. Anyone with opposable thumbs should have no trouble finding it. All of my monthly columns are there along with a few bonus entries with additional information. When possible and necessary, links to my sources can be found right inside the text of each post, so anyone who doubts the accuracy of my words can find further reading for context and clarity.

I didn’t set out writing this column to become rich or famous. I never asked for worship or a fan club. And I certainly didn’t expect everyone to be nodding in agreement with every statement. I only wanted to provide somewhat of a sane, mature counterweight to all of the harsh negativity that one finds in most political editorials.

Was I successful? I hope so. Join me online as we continue the conversation.

TTFN.

(Originally published in the January 7, 2021 edition of the Morrisons Cove Herald.)

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