EDITORIAL:Â THE DEBATE ABOUT DISSENT
A Courier editorial published last week suggested that the firing of Fox News host Tucker Carlson and CNN’s Don Lemon — two commentators who brought their own political agendas to the “news desk” at their respective networks — might be a step in the right direction when it comes to civil discourse.
In other words, loud disagreements under primetime lights have done little to move the narrative forward in a positive way, and the dismissal of Carlson and Lemon might be a sign that cable news is starting to get the hint.
This has spurred The Courier to revisit an idea that has been percolating in recent years — what is permitted on the opinion pages of this weekly and, more specifically, what is not.
There have been multiple instances of polarizing pieces printed in The Courier in recent years that have prompted pointed responses from the opposing side, exacerbating the “left” vs. “right” conflict. The most recent example has come in just the past few weeks, as several letter-writers have cast a wide net of judgement and blame pertaining to gun violence that has swept into Native American culture and accusations therein. It has provided an equal level of angst and discomfort for people on both sides of the debate and one has to wonder — is this helpful?
That’s the question The Courier is asking in these times of deep conflict, and prompting a re-evaluation of what is written in the newspapers’ editorial and op-ed pages. In other words, are there some subjects that should simply be off the table?
When it comes to public discourse and debates about the issues of the day, opinion pieces published by newspapers are as old as the industry itself and a central part of the democratic process. While safety nets that guard against slander and libel are in place, and while common sense dictates that vulgarity and lewd language are off limits, pretty much everything else has been fair game. That includes accusations of election fraud, blame leveled at gun enthusiasts and the ongoing debates about immigration, abortion, climate change, taxes and spending, police presence and international policy.
Frankly, it’s exhausting.
And so to what end does a newspaper like The Courier continue to provide a platform for what is “challenging information” at best and “verbal warfare” at worst? To the point of Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon failing to “advance the conversation in a positive way,” does this newspaper fall into the same trap? And so the question should be asked:
Should The Courier rewrite its letters to the editor policy to safeguard against any commentary that touches on the most polarizing issues of our time, and therefore adhere to that policy in our own editorials?
And if so, to what end?
It seems like a slippery slope and one that this newspaper does not want to go down.
Yet again, the question must be asked: Is the back-and-forth that takes place on newspapers like this one helpful? Does it advance the narrative in a positive way or only serve to stir up “the other side,” and therefore drive the stake of division even further into our fractured foundation?
Finding the balance between being a newspaper for everybody — and therefore providing a platform for conversation and discussion — and functioning as a lightning rod is exceedingly difficult and something the industry needs to grapple with.
And there’s no good answer.
So what do the readers think? Is the back and forth printed on these pages helpful or hurtful? Should The Courier consider putting at least a temporary halt on issues A, B and C, with the understanding that it would have to adhere to that same level of censorship?
Or do the conversations still have value?
This newspaper wants to hear from its readership in the interest of moving forward in the best way possible. Reach out through a letter for publication, a letter not for publication, a personal email or text, or a word on the street.
There’s no question The Courier has a responsibility when it comes to civil discourse. The question is, when does that civil discourse turn into something that does more harm than good?
Jeremy Waltner | Editor & Publisher