|The editor here seems to change identities when he writes|
op-ed pieces for the other Times, the one in New York
I learned while I was still a college student that editing a small town newspaper is like walking a tightrope 50 feet off the ground, while balancing a flaming pinwheel on your nose.
I was educated to this fact of life by osmosis. I edited a college newspaper that was job printed by the local weekly in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Whenever I went downtown to the weekly, to read galleys, or check on layout problems, or deliver copy and engravings, or to pick up copies of the paper on Friday night and haul them back to campus, I watched the two owners of the weekly, Keith Howard and Ken Champney, sweat out their own newspapering problems.
There’s a big problem at small town papers. The people you write about are not only your subscriber base, but often also your advertiser base. Denounce the local asshole who’s running for town council on a platform that he’ll arrest people for using birth control, and there goes one precious subscription and $3,000 a year worth of advertising from the asshole’s seed and animal feed depot. Favor Obamacare and you’ll never display a used car ad from Catastrophe Cal the Car Trader again.
The Internet has only made matters worse. Now in addition to balancing that flaming pinwheel on your nose, you have to ride the tightrope on a unicycle, and the tightrope is getting frayed.
In Yellow Springs, Ohio, it was sometimes even worse than that even well before the Internet. I remember being told that on occasion, in the late 1940s or early 1950s, pacifist publisher Keith, and Ed the local feed mill operator, a right wing zealot, would set out on a collision course from opposite ends of Xenia Avenue, the main drag.
|Swiped from the Yellow Springs News|
The annual knockdown. When they met face-to-face, Ed would knock Keith to the ground. Keith would then pick himself up, brush himself off, head to the police station, and swear out a warrant against Ed. It was an annual ritual for a while, I was told. Sort of like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in grade school, or fireworks on the 4th of July.
Keith and Ed have long since passed on, Keith most assuredly to that great small town news room in the sky; Ed, I wouldn't be surprised, to a stinking pit in hell reserved for remorseless right wing Republicans. Ed's son is now Ohio Congressman Mike DeWine. And the Yellow Springs News is still going strong — now the work product of six women, two men, and a large shaggy dog named Destiny the News Hound.
So I was heartened when I saw in the New York Times what appeared to be a bit of honest, straight-ahead reporting on racist Republican Congressman Steve King’s prospects for re-election — written by Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake (Iowa) Times, paid circulation 3,386, in King’s Congressional district.
I don’t know if Storm Lake has a diner, but since he’s not a visiting fireman from Big City Journalism, Inc., Cullen didn’t need one. Like any good small town editor, he knew exactly where to find the local dog groomer, the woman who “proudly plants a huge red ‘KING’ sign every two years in her yard along Lake Avenue, the main drag,” and the local Snapper dealer. (For some mystified city slickers, let me explain that a Snapper dealer would be the guy who likely sold you your new tractor or riding mower.)
Relentlessly, each person Cullen quoted stood by their Steve, evidently mystified that language from King that shrieked “White Supremacy” to the rest of the world had any negative connotation at all. On the contrary, it meant to them that Steve is the kind of guy who “tells it like it is.”
Cullen’s conclusion? While there are some rivals to King in the wings, including a Democrat, “…from the sounds I’m hearing, Mr. King has not exhausted his appeal.”
Okay, fair enough. That one half-sentence at the end makes this an op-ed piece. Other than that, it’s an non-judgmental report on a newsworthy topic, and Cullen is an unbiased reporter in the heart of the heartland. Or so I thought.
Feeling delighted, I searched for the Lake County Times on the Internet, hoping for more unbiased, insightful reporting from the heart of Real America. What I found instead, was a very different take, on the same matter, from the same journalist. Cullen wrote:
With respect, we disagree with our friends at The Des Moines Register and Sioux City Journal who this week called on Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, to resign over his remarks involving white supremacy, white nationalism and western civilization, as it were. They argue that he is not fully representing the Fourth Congressional District because the House Republicans just stripped him of his agriculture and judiciary committee assignments, and that his statements do not reflect mainstream Iowa values.
King should not resign. He was just re-elected in November to a ninth term with everyone knowing full well what his views were on race and culture. Nobody should be suddenly shocked. Voters took all this into account before casting their ballot. Perhaps nothing is better known about King than his views on Latino immigrants.
In fact, the government is shut down because President Trump took up King’s long crusade to build a wall that spans the US-Mexico border and has made a national crisis out of it. This is what the people voted for.
King losing his committee assignments is inconsequential in a House controlled by Democrats.
And so on, and so forth. The gist is, as I interpret it, “Hey, we voted for more racism, so damnit, we’re entitled to more racism.”
While Cullen (whose publisher, by some coincidence is also named Cullen)…while Cullen presents the face of impartiality to the big city, he presents the face of a King supporter to his local readers.
The way I count ‘em, that’s two faces.
Or to put a bit more tolerantly, Cullen gets to present us city slickers with his straight-shootin' reporter credentials, and to keep his Snapper dealer's advertising, too.
And I'm still counting. And that's still two faces.