August 2, 2013

Editor says TEA Party letter was unwarranted

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star

CHICKASHA — Typically I'm not one to respond to letters to the editor. People have their opinions, I have mine and the world keeps spinning.

However, on Wednesday we printed a letter detailing a local TEA Party member's distaste for my article over the party's animosity toward the renewal of 3/4 cent sales tax that is up for vote Sept. 10.

This letter addressed a number of issues that the writer, TEA Party member Joyce Stockton, seems to have with the newspaper. With that in mind I feel it is my duty to address each of her concerns one-by-one in the same way she expressed them.

First, there is the issue of me using the word animosity to describe the TEA Party's opposition to the possible tax renewal. Mrs. Stockton quotes Webster's Dictionary defining animosity as "ill will, tending toward active hostility."

Another definition of the word, as defined by Webster's, is "a strong feeling of dislike or hatred." Tonight, the TEA Party will show a presentation on why voters should cast their ballots against renewal during their monthly meeting. I don't think you try to get people to vote against something you like, so using a word that implies dislike is probably appropriate.

The letter then goes on to detail that as editor, I have the right to oppose conservative views, traditional family values and any view that differs from mine, which I have done in the past.

I agree with everything she says here. I am, on most issues, not a conservative. However, I've never expressed these views in a news article. Any editorial commentary I've made has been in an opinion piece or subjective feature. Alleging that the use of animosity in an article is an editorial slant is downright ridiculous, especially when that allegation comes with only a partial definition of the word.

The next paragraph is a restatement of what TEA Party representative Mark Keeling said in an interview for the story, which so upset Mrs. Stockton. It goes on about the importance of water in a community, and how previous councils have not been good stewards of capital improvement tax dollars.

Just for good measure, I'll say I haven't decided whether I agree or disagree with the TEA Party's request to allocate all the funds generated from this sales tax for water improvement. I will write a column when I do, though.  

The next paragraph states that I, by using the word animosity, have cast the Grady County TEA Party in a negative light, similar to what the liberal national media does. It also says that my choice of words are apparently an effort to divide the community.

I've never really fancied myself a super villain. I've never written a column with the goal of creating a massive divide among voters that inevitably will crush family values and bring an end to conservative Chickasha. I do love political debate. I consider Keeling to be a friend and he and I have had numerous political debates, but managed to maintain our friendship. The thing is, I don't think Mrs. Stockton likes opposition of any kind. These conservative values that she holds so dear tend to blind their believers from progression and reality. Traditional family values are once again mentioned in this paragraph. I can only imagine that this was reiterated to make a point that I wrote a story on how the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act would affect Oklahoma. She goes on to say the TEA Party are not racist, bigots, tyrants or haters of government.

That's fair. The national media does categorize the TEA Party as the aforementioned taboos, and although I've never even remotely written anything resembling such remarks, I have come out against the TEA Party before.

So since our local TEA Party is so progressive, I look forward to hearing them complain about why the streets on the east side of Chickasha are in such disrepair at the next city council meeting, writing letters to the editor chastising our website and Facebook commenters that called a gay couple we interviewed disgusting and financially backing a candidate for public office.

The last paragraph is my favorite of the letter.

First, Mrs. Stockton says she believes I owe the TEA Party an apology. I was under the impression that I was entitled to my own views according to her political ideology, so I'm a bit confused why I should apologize. That seems a little tyrannical for such a non-tyrant.

Then there is her lament about people calling TEA Party members names. I'm truly sorry if someone has hurt your feelings Mrs. Stockton, but that's the world of politics. If you want to be a force for change, you should prepare for animosity. If it is too bothersome, I suggest you leave the political process to those who can take the heat.

She elaborates on her critiques stating she knows the insults will continue by those who don't support conservative Christian values.

Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists details the importance of a separation of church and state. It's interesting to me that there is such a religious concern in the TEA Party, when the author of the Declaration of Independence spoke directly against religious involvement in politics. This doesn't seem too American.

Lastly she reiterates that I have a right to write what I want, but asks "what happened to newspapers that wrote the truth and were neutral on issues?"

Madam, we do write the truth. There is no political bias in our news articles. There are simply sources conveying information with transitions separating them. If I had written something that said the TEA Party ignorantly met this tax with animosity, I'd think you'd have a point. But I didn't. Most opinion is generated from adjectives and adverbs, of which there are very few in our news stories, unless they're located in a direct quote.

The truth is Mrs. Stockton, you are guilty of the same misdeed that you're accusing me of. You didn't use all the definitions of animosity in your letter. You picked the one that best fit your argument, and for someone who is so interested in the truth, it seems odd that you would be selective on your version of it.

I do have a solution to our misunderstanding. Drop the facade that the Grady County TEA Party doesn't have leadership and doesn't back candidates. Put someone in charge of media relations and my supposed terrible misrepresentations of the party will stop.

Politics is a game for brave people who put their names and faces in the limelight for better or worse. The effort that the local TEA Party makes to affect change in small convenient doses, is weak. If you want to play in the political arena, you should be ready to bleed, and what I've seen from the Grady County TEA Party is you'll only fight if you can't be hurt. That just doesn't work. It's not the conservative Christian values that yields the party criticism. It's the lack of follow through.