Now, more than ever, words matter.
When you work in this field, and especially in this country, you cherish the First Amendment. But to be honest, you should really cherish all of the Bill of Rights. Or at least understand them and their meaning.
I grew up in Kansas, right smack in the middle of the Bible Belt. I spent the majority of my life there.
There was a preacher in my birth state who rose to national prominence because he would often picket funerals and events with signs that said things like “God Hates Fags.” His words were powerful in our conservative state, maybe even more so than anywhere in the United States.
Because he held up a mirror to people. He forced them to decide if they were with him and his beliefs or against them. He confronted you to make a decision you might not be ready to make. Were you like him or were you different?
As a young newspaper editor in the hometown of his church, I argued our readers deserved to see his words exactly as he said them, not paraphrased – not because of how I felt about them, but because I felt our community should see his real words. Unfiltered. Unedited. Uncensored.
Because words matter.
In Saturday’s edition of The Spokesman-Review, we ran a column from a local pastor. We do that almost every Saturday. Sometimes, even more often that that.
Spirituality and beliefs are so important to so many of us.
I believe The Spokesman-Review is at its best when we show all of the many parts that make up Eastern Washington. Our newspaper serves as a forum for many voices to share in the dialogue. Sometimes those conversations are constructive, sometimes they are divisive, but they are almost always welcomed.
Just like all of the Saturdays before this one, I didn’t see the column before we published it. When I read it for the first time – in likely the same fashion many of you did – I was shocked.
I even had regrets.
It’s just that I didn’t regret that we published it.
My regret was that we had a teaching moment that had revealed itself to us and we blew it. I blew it. That made my heart hurt way more than running a column by a member of our area’s clergy.
For a local news organization to grasp its ability to be a living textbook for its readers, context is vital. And we didn’t provide the right context for a column like that to run. In my eyes, that was the mistake.
Maybe that context could have been in the form of related news stories. Or voices, ideas and experiences from others. Or maybe it could have been a column from another point of view that simply ran next to it.
Context can take lots of forms. But whatever it was, we didn’t provide it.
The irony – or was it coincidence? – is that the world may have provided context for us in the form of the events that unfolded throughout the weekend in Virginia.
It’s just not the context that The Spokesman-Review should have been trying to achieve.
I tell people all of the time I typically make more mistakes before noon on Monday than most people make all week. When people call me or email me – especially after I already know I’ve screwed something up – they’re often surprised to hear me apologize.
Learning from mistakes is how we grow. It’s how we mature. With the amount of mistakes I make, I should be pretty darn mature by now. Those of you who have ever heard me speak in public know that’s not true. But I am getting wiser.
I hope you all will accept my apology … just not for publishing the column that appeared in Saturday’s paper. I’m apologizing for not giving the column the right context and discussion that it deserved.
In today’s world of Facebook – where you are typically surrounded by others who often share similar views because of friendships and family – and today’s world of hyper-specialized media that aims to show one particular point of view, it’s now more important than ever that we all see other points of view. Because that’s how we learn.
This is the most polarized I have seen our nation. I’m also a relatively young man.
I wasn’t around for the tensions surrounding the Vietnam War. Or segregation. Or the Great Depression. Or our nation’s Civil War.
Our country has certainly been more polarized than it is right now. History proves that. It’s just that it’s never seemed this polarized in my lifetime.
I believe with every part of both my heart and my mind that this is because so many of us choose not to understand – or even believe – all sides of the story. We don’t even want to hear it.
And that’s a shame.
Because words matter. So does context.