Thursday, April 14, 2005

Column 28: A Column about the Column

Over the nine months I’ve been writing this column, a common response I’ve gotten and continue to get is that some people feel that this column speaks for them – not every column for every person but most of the time for most of the people. That was my intent in starting this column, and I’m glad I can do that.
A second group who have responded are people who tell me that they enjoy reading the column even though they mostly don’t agree with me. If what I’m writing and how I’m writing it is readable and/or enjoyable enough that people who disagree with me still like reading it, I like that a lot.
And, of course, there are those who disagree with me who have written letters and even an occasional column, and are thoughtful and express a point of view that I can respect, – the physician who took both Jim and me to task for our health care columns is a great example – his letter was thoughtful and respectful while clearly letting us know his views.. To them I say “thanks.” I did not set out to write a column that had no viewpoint and appealed to all. I am attempting to represent a point of view that is more or less shared by about half the people in the United States and a substantial number of people here in Incline. If there were no disagreement, I would be failing in my task.
Another group, however, are those who cannot seem to disagree without being disagreeable. They name-call and vilifiy, as if the mere fact that they disagree and can think of insults that seem clever to them is proof enough that I’m wrong, if not evil. This is a nasty form of political debate from either side of the aisle, and one I don’t have any respect for. In my opinion the ad hominem attack is the last refuge of the bigoted and ignorant.
A political/social columnist cannot be an expert on everything. Not long ago, when I was testifying as an expert witness in an intellectual property case, I was asked to list the areas where I felt I could be called and “expert.” On the one hand the list surprised me – in a lifetime of study and careers in several fields, I have actually learned something about a number of fields. On the other hand, the list was pretty short. So when I come to write a column I do research and try to get my facts as straight and accurate as I can and to clearly differentiate my opinions from the facts. Bernard Baruch said “Every man has a right to his opinions, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.” When I’ve had my facts wrong, I have corrected the error and will continue to do that so that people aren’t left with inaccurate information. As to my opinions, they are my own.
A danger for a columnist is that one can forget that free access to a public medium carries accountability with it. The cynical say (usually of a columnist or commentator they don’t agree with) that the media are just running off at the mouth, unchecked. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Journalism has a long-established code of ethics in the public trust, and recent events involving Dan Rather, the New York Times, and others have made it clear that the public will hold those who abuse this trust to account. One of the reasons I started this column is that my work and travel schedule will not support my serving in a public office – this is my way of serving, and I try to do it honestly and valuably. I’m not trying to please all of the people or even some of the people all of the time, and I will continue to write as long as some people let me know that I speak for them, at least some of the time.

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