Mazzuca: Read past this headline
Shortly after moving to the valley I wrote several letters to the editor. As a result, Don Rogers contacted me asking if I would consider writing a weekly commentary. He said he wanted a conservative voice on the Vail Daily’s commentary pages, and I enthusiastically agreed. It’s been a fantastic experience and I’m most grateful to Don for giving me the opportunity to share my perspectives with the Daily’s readership.
During the past six years people from all walks of life have sent e-mails responding to my thoughts. E-mails have come from as far away as China, Europe and South America. I’ve been invited to debate a host on a liberal talk-radio show in Denver, and a few of my commentaries have been linked to nationally known Web sites.
Nonetheless, and as one might expect, most of the e-mail comments I receive are from locals.
Because we live in such a small community, people frequently stop me and ask “Are you the guy who writes for the Daily?” and I make no bones about it. It’s an ego-boost when a perfect stranger walks up and says, “I really enjoy your writing,” or “I clip all of your commentaries and send them to my brother.”
Conversely, a retired physician once approached me outside of Patrol Headquarters on Vail Mountain and compared my commentaries to Mein Kampf (good grief!). However, the good doctor called me at home later that evening to apologize, and the next time we saw each other on the mountain, we rode Chair 3 discussing our differences in a genial manner.
My writing has also given me the opportunity to meet with other reasonable people in what could have been adversarial situations.
One such individual is Kate Forinash, the county’s Director of Health and Human Services. Even though Kate and I are diametrically opposed on most aspects of early childhood development issue, she’s always been accommodating when providing me with the statistical information I’ve requested. What I admire about Kate is her ability to disagree without being disagreeable.
In another instance I received an e-mail expressing an opposing point-of-view regarding a commentary I had written about the war in Iraq. Since I reply to every e-mail I receive (unless it’s an over-the-top diatribe) I e-mailed back and one thing led to another and we met for a friendly debate over a cup of coffee at Fiesta’s. This particular individual is also politically to the left of me; nevertheless, our discussion was good-humored and thoughtful.
The comments I receive about my commentaries run about five to one in support of my opinions. However, after my July 19, commentary appeared in the Daily I received an inordinate number of very contentious e-mails. In fairness, when one publicly expresses their opinion on controversial topics on a biweekly basis, one better have a thick skin; nevertheless, I found the vitriolic nature of those e-mails disturbing.
For those who don’t recall that particular commentary, it began by asking the question, “Why does conservative talk radio in America flourish while liberal talk radio fails to gain traction?” When I submitted the commentary to my editor I suggested using the title, “Who’s listening?” I thought it was attention-grabbing and would properly frame the topic. However, when I picked up the newspaper on Thursday morning, I saw that the Daily ran my commentary using the title, “Why right-wing talk radio works.”
Initially I was annoyed because I have never used the terms ‘right-wing’ or ‘left-wing’ in any of my 289 previous commentaries. I consider those terms counterproductive to reasoned discourse.
But editing a columnist, including his or her suggested titles is an opinion editor’s prerogative. Perhaps the Daily wanted to stimulate discussion on its commentary pages by using a controversial title, I really don’t know, but regardless of the rationale, the Daily made the call, not me.
However, the Daily’s decision to change my title is what precipitated today’s commentary because it brought into sharper focus something I’ve believed for a long time. Much of what passes for political dialogue in this country (and county) is little more than bumper-sticker mentality on steroids. Every single one of the rancorous e-mails I received responded to the words in the title of the July 19 commentary ” not a one addressed the commentary’s actual content.
That commentary made no value judgments about talk radio, whether liberal or conservative; rather, it made a series of observations about talk-radio hosts, their audiences and sponsors, ratings and the marketplace. But judging from the venomous e-mails I received, one would have thought I was attempting to kidnap each sender’s first-born. Sharing those e-mails would be inappropriate, but a similar phenomenon occurred with the majority of the comments to that piece on the Vail Daily’s Web site.
Editors, pundits and TV news producers operate within their purview when they frame issues as they see fit. We see examples of this everyday when the NY Times makes use of inaccurate or misleading headlines to frame a story, or when Bill O’Reilly does the same with his opening remarks on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
All the same, the caustic and ill-thought-out e-mails I received were prime examples of how far too many people never get beyond headlines or sound bites when formulating opinions on complex or controversial matters. How unfortunate for all of us.
Quote of the Day: “Never mind who you praise, but be very careful whom you blame.”
Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.