Consolidation: Few Facts but Lots of Name-Calling
(For release noon Jan. 27 and thereafter (545 words)
The public discussion is reduced to name-calling. The mayor of Huntington last week described citizens who want him to cut his budget as “Taliban.” (1) A few days later the Indianapolis Star implied that those skeptical of the governor’s consolidation plan were “partisans” (or ideologues, one assumes, if they belong to the same political party). (2)
You may understand what is meant by Taliban and partisan but in the interest of precision name-calling let’s look up ideologue:
“ideology — A set of doctrines or beliefs that form the basis of a political, economic or other system,” according to the second definition in the 4th edition American Heritage Dictionary. “Ideologue — An advocate of a particular ideology, especially an official exponent of that ideology,”
Most of us would plead guilt to that, or at least admit to believing in something. In my case it is the small government of classical liberalism, a centuries-old set of doctrines that admittedly conforms to the definition.
Indeed, a person can hardly do his job without some sort of conviction. But even so, in the case of a journalist, the motivation still can be to write more accurately, even presciently, without trying to impose on others “a body of ideas reflecting a view of social needs or aspirations of any other individual, group, class or culture.”
That last, to the point being made here, is the dictionary’s first definition of “ideology.”
Three years ago, the Star’s readers got a demonstration. It was a hearing of a legislative study commission assessing government consolidation, now a hot topic at the Statehouse and the subject of some politically timed “research” from state-funded universities.
The topic was less politically charged back then. There was testimony at the hearing that the promised savings from consolidation were imaginary if not fraudulent. This conclusion was supported by three different studies, one conducted by an independent forensic accounting firm. (3)
Moreover, the commission provided detailed source material to the Star, which was editorializing in favor of consolidation. This material, had it been consulted, included facts that could have been independently verified by reporters. Finally, the chairman challenged the Star editors, if they did not believe him, to hire an independent consultant to review his commission’s conclusions.
The Star editors declined, choosing instead to print a disparaging cartoon of one legislator and impugn the motives of another.
“When I confronted the editor of the opinion pages of the Star as to inaccuracies, he responded that they were ‘close enough (to the truth),’” remembers the commission chairman, Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis. “While the light of day proved that the consolidation numbers just did not add up, the Star continued its push for consolidation.” (4)
Bad policy results when a state’s leading newspaper eschews honestly gathered information in order to impose the aspirations of select individuals or groups (there’s that first definition of “ideology” again). Readers lose, advertisers lose and, most important, citizens lose.
Editors, be they print or Internet, hold privileges that they enjoy specifically and uniquely under the U.S. Constitution. And because of that, regardless of their party or ideology, they have a responsibility to avoid the temptations of the booster, the apologist and the propagandist.
Many still honor that responsibility, which may be our salvation.
Craig Ladwig, editor of the Indiana Policy Review, formerly was an editor with Knight-Ridder News and an editorial writer for Capital Cities Communication.
1. “Mayor Updike Tells All at Annual State-of-the-City Address.” The Huntington Herald-Press, Jan. 21.
2. “Consolidation Foes Hinder Progress.” The Indianapolis Star, Jan. 24.
3. The winter 2006 edition of The Indiana Policy Review, “Local Government: To Consolidate or Not,” is available in a downloadable pdf format to foundation members, accredited academics and media at www.inpolicy.org under “The IPR Journal” tab (registration required).
4. The full account of the Marion County consolidation debate by the study commission chairman, Sen. R. Michael Young, can be found in the fall 2006 edition, “Yes, We Can Fight City Hall,” also available under “The IPR Journal” tab at the foundation’s web site.