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Of editorial writing & critical thinking

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Clippings article published Oct. 23, 2008

Let’s talk about editorials and this newspaper’s perspective over the past eight years.

Since 2000, this editor has been roundly criticized — and applauded — by readers reacting to editorials on the national or international scene. Many of those editorials have been about the elections with George W., about the invasion of Iraq, the economy, and what I have considered to be the misguided policies of the Bush administration.

Contrary to some publications, editorials are written with the premise of the piece clearly stated and one side of the issue boldly supported. Very few editorials are middle-of-the-road essays that point out both sides of the issue and let the reader decide which group of facts has the most validity. Picking one side of the issue and defending that point of view is precisely what editorials should do. And, yes, that means the editorials are biased. Of course they are. They reflect my research and my point of view. That doesn’t mean, however, they are not supported by facts or credible evidence that counters an opposing agenda.

But why write about those issues when that’s the purview of national publications, some critics ask, then suggest we write solely about local and state issues.

It’s a good point, and frankly, I would do my job better if I made it a priority to always include a local editorial to accompany any editorial on the world or national scene. Two shorter editorials would almost always be preferable.

But when the issues get mixed up with people’s emotional framework, rational discussion often falls by the wayside and partisan politics enters the fray. The strategic reasons for invading Iraq or not, for example, get lost within the emotional context of patriotism, God and country, and supporting the troops.

Defining the rhetoric that is couched in such thinking, then defending a rational argument against the war is difficult to nail down in half a column. I should be so lucky to have the full day to write such a piece and a staff of researchers as do the editorial writers at the New York Times. Like Tevye in the song“If I Were a Rich Man,” there are many things I’d do differently given an ideal circumstance.

But why cover national issues at all? Because national decisions make a difference locally. Because adding a voice of opposition — particularly when it is in the minority — gives others the courage to also speak out. Because the challenge of the day — particularly leading up to the election in 2000, the invasion of Iraq, and the election of 2004 — was to correct the record and the national dialogue; to refute the lies being told; to focus on the rational, and to point out how the public’s fears were being exploited.

We opposed Bush’s election in 2000 because his record was full of failure. We supported the invasion of Afghanistan, but opposed the invasion of Iraq from the start. We’ve attempted to point out the ills of policies that widen the gap between rich and poor, supported the scientific community’s overwhelming assessment that global warming is real and that mankind can play a role in reducing the carbon dioxide that is making it worse, railed against corporate malfeasance in military contracts and advocated for more government regulation of all kinds for the past decade.

For those views, we’ve been called a left-wing publication with radical views. No doubt, many conservatives have felt we were anti-American because we dared object to the Iraqi invasion; that we were socialist because we advocate for higher taxes on the wealthy (just back to pre-Bush years would be sufficient, nothing onerous); that we were arrogant to think we had insights where others did not.

Today, we look back and wonder what those readers who were so harsh in their earlier assessments might think.

But no matter. The hope is that readers can simply accept the role of an editorial. It is to make readers think critically; to encourage readers to question that which is being pushed on them by others who have an obvious agenda; to consider other alternatives that just might be in the nation’s or the community’s better interest.

We have no claim to clairvoyance or wisdom. But it is the job of an independent press to point out the weaknesses in our government when we see them, and to praise its strengths as well. For the past eight years, we admit that we have found far more weaknesses than strengths to note, but we argue that has less to do with our bias than it does with the Bush administration’s many shortcomings. History has already supported this papers’ perspective on many of these issues, and will be a far harsher critic of this president than we ever were. For our part, we’re grateful to see the Bush era come to an end, and are eager for a more balanced debate on the issues that will move this country forward.

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