Criticism is a civic duty
The closer to home, the tougher critics find it to speak up and be accountable for their words by identifying themselves. It’s relatively easy to go off on the Bush administration, or Clinton administration, in Washington, D.C. Even easier to dismiss all politicians as crooks, pretty much an excuse for not bothering with all that, including voting. Might as well live in the wrong Korea, Iraq or Iran, where a few hardy or foolish souls brave prison and death for speaking out.
Criticizing local leaders seems for at least some to inspire similar terror. Oh, they want to let loose. But the thought of identifying themselves, well, that’s another story. Fear of prison, death? No, not hardly. The critic “has to live in this town,” “business will be harmed,” “just don’t want the hassle” of accountability. Those are the common excuses. They are lame, at least from the vantage of pundits and leaders, whose opinions are as public as can be.
The Tipsline phone-in forum offers that veil to hide behind for those timid folks who think they have something to say but not quite the fortitude to be identified. A lot of the forum is gossipy, meanspirited trash – no wonder they’re chicken to leave their names on their phone messages.
One reason the forum is so well read, though, is that alas it does tap into conversations that really do occur daily in even our relatively highbrow community.
The items aren’t necessarily PC, but the sentiments – if not always the facts – are real enough. It’s a rough gauge on the state of our community, even though plenty of citizens find some of viewpoints distasteful, even embarrassing. Then again, even these critics of the forum, who usually leave their names, read the forum rather thoroughly each week.
Letters to the editor require the author to identify himself or herself, though some will get away with lying about their identity. Still, most letter writers are strong enough as people to be accountable for what they say, and as a result this forum tends to be taken more seriously. This is why we don’t print anonymous letters.
Letter writers are precious to newspapers because they add so much to the dialogue about public issues, well beyond all that pretentious punditry. The very apex, of course, is the letter that takes on the paper’s editorial position, a thought-out criticism of the criticism, if you will.
Facts, or more pertinently, the tangle of facts and how they are interpreted, remain problematic in this forum, as they do throughout papers and our lives. Often, though, it’s not the fact but the opinion that’s deemed in error, and that’s when it’s your turn to contribute, if you have the guts.