How dare a letter writer be biased?

Something in the Desert: Jan. 9, 2019

Doug McMurdo

The caller didn’t leave his name or phone number. He just wanted to vent and tell us how The Times-Independent is full of “hate-spreading liberals” all because we published a letter from local defense attorney Steve Russell, who – gasp! – harbors liberal views.

He described Russell’s letter as “trashy” and as “childishly bashing the President.”

He wanted to know if we were really that blind. He told us to quit being biased liberals. He called us disgusting.

He apparently is one of those “freedom of speech for me, but not for thee” folks.

He also mentioned the economy and how the only people who can’t get a job in Moab in the winter are the people who don’t want a job in Moab in the winter. Not sure what the economy has to do with his perception of The Times-Independent, or why we should discriminate against anyone for any reason, but we kind of think he’s a coward.

We put in a ton of extra hours to accommodate holiday deadlines. We spent late nights and Sundays the second half of December, all hands on deck. Still, the caller managed to call when nobody was here to pick up the phone.

Not only is he a coward, he’s wholly ignorant of the role newspapers play in a community and he has zero understanding of the purpose behind an Opinion page.

How do I know this to be true? Because the caller also wanted to know just “how biased” can we get?

Well, unnamed caller, when it comes to the Opinion page, we can get as biased as we want. That’s the entire point of the Opinion page; it’s the marketplace of ideas, it’s a forum for our readers to rage against the machine, to bring attention to injustice, to say goodbye to the recently departed, to tout a new or old business or organization – and yes, to write letters to the editor that are critical of the president of the United States, local elected officials, the post office, law enforcement, their trashy neighbors, the dog catcher or The Times-Independent.

Here’s how the Oxford Dictionary defines the word opinion: A view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge, i.e., “I’m writing to voice my opinion on an issue of great importance.”

Letters to the editor are by definition biased. This column you’re reading right now is by definition biased. Opinions, after all, are by definition biased.

Conservatives are more than welcome to write letters to the editor. So are liberals, greenies, libertarians, Rastafarians, and anyone else who feels strongly enough to send us their thoughts about any issue under the sun.

They will be published as long as they comply with our letters policy, published every week on this page, and they likely will be biased.

While the caller undoubtedly thinks he gave us grief, we actually got a laugh out of his low-energy rant. But the sound of all those chuckles rang a bit hollow because he is hardly alone in his thinking. Too many Americans share his view that dissent should be silenced. That is about as un-American a stance as a person could take. Dissenters founded America. It’s in our DNA.

Here’s the thing: We don’t limit our letters to only those writers with whom we agree. Anyone and everyone is welcome to send us letters. Our letters policy has a word limit, it bans dirty words, and we don’t allow folks to defame people with words that will put us in front of a judge. We also won’t accept letters that have been redundantly submitted to other local publications. Pretty simple.

Here’s what worries me. Our caller isn’t alone in his wholly flawed understanding of how the media works. He said we were getting to be as biased as CNN and MSNBC. He did not mention FOX News, which shows he’s intellectually dishonest.

Newspapers are not CNN, MSNBC or FOX News. Those basic cable networks don’t do news. They get a panel of talking heads who are paid to be loud, not necessarily accurate. They do blind speculation. They do hyperbole. They do fake outrage and they say things with the intent to provoke a response. And yes, sometimes they spread hate.

Newspapers, when they’re done right, provide readers with objective reports on issues that matter to a community. We watchdog the government. We cover cops and courts. We cover the business community, tourism, education, high school sports, entertainment, upcoming events, traffic, weather and who has died and who has been born.

The one page where we don’t obsess over fairness and accuracy is the one you’re reading right now, which has thoughts and observations from writers who dare to sign their writings, and who don’t cower behind the anonymity of a late-night phone call left on our answering system.