All have an opinion and they should
Putting together the opinion page each week is a new adventure every time I do it.
It's truly amazing what a wonderful country we have; each person can have an opinion about any subject and they can have that opinion without worry that the government will come and get them for it.
However, it seems, there are a lot of people out there that would like to see that changed. They are of the opinion, that on certain things, no one should be heard, unless it is from their point of view.
Take the Shades of Gray column we ran earlier this month, written by Terry Willis and Tom McCourt for instance.
Each month they write this column and they trade off responding to each other on some controversial subject. Last time it was Terry's turn to start the whole thing and Tom's responsibility to write an opinion that challenged hers. As the three of us talked together about what they would write about, the subject, an old one in Utah, came up. That of polygamy.
With the news of Warren Jeffs being put on the FBI's 10 most wanted list it seemed an appropriate time to address at least some of the issues swirling around this controversial practice.
After that column appeared we got a lot of email about the subject; that was good, because I like to hear from people about their opinions and often it will spawn other editorials and letters to the editor.
The exception to that this time however, is that about half the email asked why we would print such a thing. Some questioned the integrity of the paper for doing so, some attacked Tom personally for taking the view he did in his part of the column.
I'm not sure what people are thinking when they attack the paper for printing an opinion they don't like. An opinion page is for many varied opinions, some conservative, some liberal, some moderate and some way out there on both ends of the spectrum (depending on each individuals idea of what that is of course).
That is the purpose of the opinion page.
As for personally attacking the writer of a piece, I find it interesting that often when someone sends me an email doing this or calls me up about such a column, they often don't want to write any kind of rebuttal to the piece they are objecting too. They want to personalize the issue, not deal with it. They want to attack the person, not the subject the writer ruminated about.
I have also often received second and third calls from the same person concerning a column or editorial where they are insisting that we should do something about the person who wrote the piece. I do, do something. I gladly pay them and then ask them to do some more.
The point is that the opinion page should stir controversy; it is there to make people think about things in a different way and to look at things from a varied point of view. Attacking people who write such columns, rather than the issue itself, shows a lack of understanding about what an opinion page is about. And I will never allow people to attack another personally in our pages. They may take issue with someone, say they are wrong or misinformed, but personal attacks have no place in an opinion page.
That also goes for political figures as well, although they are more open game than private persons who write letters or editorials. For instance we may run an editorial that claims President Bush lied about some things to further the war in Iraq, but we will also run letters and editorials that support his decisions as well. Taking issue with a public figure over something he or she has done as a part of public policy is a different thing from attacking someone personally for having an opinion and expressing it in our pages.
There is also one other thing that I think it is important for readers to know. Often editorial writers are assigned subjects on which they either have no opinion or must take an opposite opinion from what they truly believe. Writing an editorial about a problem or situation on which you have an opposite opinion is truly an exercise in critical thinking.
In Tom's case he had to take issue with what Terry wrote, in some way or form. He chose to talk about the fact that some do not believe Jeff's name should be on the 10 most wanted list. Others, obviously see Jeff's as belonging there in the worst way.
That controversy just fits in well with the volatile issue of polygamy. And debating it in open conversation demonstrates why this is the best and freest country in the world.