World to End: Editorial Writers Hit Hardest.jap

August 30, 2010

For immediate release (622 words)

First of all, full disclosure. I have spent my adult life, sad though it may seem, writing editorials. So there is a vested interest here in the topic of this article — the public discussion.

When public battles are fought by assigning motives rather than citing facts, we are in trouble. That is the case with the proposed Ground Zero “community center.” The headlines verify a concern that, the magic of the Internet notwithstanding, meaningful public discussion is dead.

This is bad for editorial writers, surely, but it also is bad for the nation. Democracy doesn’t work if you don’t know what’s on the ballot. That’s why the First Amendment is the first amendment.

The problem is not any decline in journalism. Community newspapers, interestingly, are doing relatively well compared with the big-city dailies. Nor is it any bias. Local journalists, in my experience, are willing to take a look at both sides of any discussion, given equal access to the facts and a firm assurance it will involve no outdoor work.

It is more serious than that. Let’s role-play for a better understanding:

• You are sitting on the local school board wondering why you should vote to give both the administration and union teachers an across-the-board pay raise in a depressed economy when all measures of classroom learning are declining. The board member next to you explains that it’s for “the kids.” Discussion over.

• Your congressman listens to your argument that the government is impeding if not actually destroying jobs and investment. Moreover, he agrees with your economic reforms. He promises to do whatever he can short of endangering his re-election. Discussion over.

• You are a governor who learns that you could balance the state budget by opting out of prevailing-wage rules on public construction projects. Moreover, you realize that you could position your state for historic growth by lowering the entry-level wage for teenagers and installing a right-to-work law for everyone else. An aide reminds you that all of that would be bad for the “working man.” Discussion over.

• You are a member of your GOP issues committee interviewing candidates for county auditor. The aspirant, currently the dog catcher, tells you that he worships regularly, has never smoked marijuana, is a family man and opposes abortion. Discussion over.

• You are a Homeland Security guard at an international entry point. You begin to gather the information needed to determine if the applicant before you is likely to instigate a “human-caused disaster.” A question of ethnicity is raised. Discussion over.

There is a favorite example of all this. It occurred a few weeks after the attack on the New York World Trade Center. The then head of the Missouri University School of Journalism took the time to add up the number of 9/11 stories that included expert commentary by women. There weren’t enough of them for her.

A nationally respected journalism professor thought it important for us to know, as the nation climbed out of the Ground Zero rubble, that people sitting in stuffed chairs hundreds and thousands of miles out of harm’s way were victims too — of sexual discrimination in the explication of national catastrophe. The joke about how the New York Times would play news of the world’s end (“Women and Minorities Hit Hardest”) would never be funny again.

Political correctness makes it impossible for journalists or anyone else to discuss our most critical problems, let alone prompt their solution. The result, as a Japanese politician observed the other day, is that Americans carom “simple-minded” from crisis to crisis.

Ruin doesn’t require dramatic events. No, creeping hypersensitivity to even the most bizarre social complaints combined with a stiff-necked righteousness and an impulsive drive for political sinecure will suffice.

For this editorial writer, though, societal collapse caused by a shortage of persons willing to shoot off their mouths would be the end too tragic to bear.

Craig Ladwig is editor of The Indiana Policy Review. Contact him at cladwig@inpolicy.org.



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