A “bomb cyclone” weather event is expected to bring snow and subzero temperatures to Kansas and much of the United States. (Getty Images)
I hear from Kansas Reflector readers nearly every day.
These readers ask why I write the columns I do, why I run the columns I do, and why I think the way I do. Sometimes they praise the pieces, other times they criticize them. On occasion, they appear to come from another dimension entirely.
Hopefully, most of those questions are answered by the columns themselves. I like to think so. However, the messages still drop into my inbox and pop into social media comments sections. As the frigid “bomb cyclone” arrives today and we huddle indoors with blankets and copious cups of cocoa, I thought it might be worthwhile to answer a handful of them.
Think of it as my early Christmas gift to you. (Please note that the following questions have been generously paraphrased.)
Why are your columns so biased?
That’s because I’m the opinion editor and I write opinion stories. It is my job to offer an opinionated take on the day’s events, to create reported columns and to otherwise inject a dose of personality into Kansas political news.
While I often conduct interviews and in-depth research for my pieces, they don’t function like news reports. They mean to persuade, to enlighten, to entertain. I honestly don’t care whether readers agree with me. I do care whether they have taken the time to think about current events in a different way.
And while bias may be inherent to my job, fairness and accuracy matter a great deal. I don’t want to misrepresent people or their views, even if I find them repugnant. The facts cited, even if arrayed toward a persuasive point, must be scrupulously accurate. I have had great exchanges with people I disagree with ideologically, and I hope to continue for decades to come.
Yes, I write opinionated columns. But I don’t serve any party or far-off puppetmaster. I write what I believe, full stop.
Aren’t you just another big-city liberal?
I am a solid liberal, or as some say these days, a progressive. Guilty as charged. I support individual rights, civil liberties, democracy and a government that helps the needy.
As for big city, I grew up in a succession of small Kansas towns: Hiawatha, Altoona, Emporia, Garden City and El Dorado. The largest metropolis I’ve ever lived in was St. Petersburg, Florida, and that was for two intermittently interesting years.
Conservatives have dominated the political discourse in Kansas politics for so long that many are shocked by an unapologetic liberal writing regularly about Kansas events. That seems somehow wrong, illegal even. This claque of correspondents and commenters sound stunned that someone may hold opinions that don’t match those of Fox News, Newsmax, or their grandparents’ Facebook feeds.
I assure you, however, that liberals exist, even in Kansas.
More than 41% of Kansans who voted in the 2020 election voted for Joe Biden. Laura Kelly has earned two terms as our state’s Democratic governor. No, I’m not saying that everyone who voted for Biden or Kelly is necessarily a liberal. However, a chunk of them are. If you believe that news media should reflect a wide array of opinions and views, then clearly, progressives and liberals deserve robust representation of their views.
Why don’t you respect my beliefs about vaccines / election integrity / critical race theory?
Because you’re wrong.
This transcends the liberal label I discussed in the previous two questions. A number of my columns from the past year and a half should be classified as conservative, in the classical sense at least. Why? Because I’m arguing for basic, commonsense principles that transcend ideology.
Science is real. We should take precautions during a pandemic.
Racism is bad. We should teach students the actual history of our country.
Elections are real. Joe Biden was legitimately elected president of the United States in 2020.
Believing these facts should not require anyone be a liberal or Democrat. When fundamentally false beliefs threaten the body politic and public health, everyone working in the opinion realm has a duty to sound the alarm. That’s what I’ve done repeatedly. I do not and will not respect those who concoct destructive falsehoods under the banner of partisan politics.
Whoah, there. Do you mean to get so worked up?
This is the most important point I want to make today: All things are not the same.
Some current events are more important than other current events. That might seem like it goes without saying. But when you look at the last few years of news coverage, you’ll notice that we’ve had especially weighty issues to deal with. Election denialism, pandemic awareness, systemic racism.
Belief in the fundamentals of government has been sorely tested. Standing up and speaking out matters. We should discuss these matter plainly, with the seriousness that they deserve.
These are not questions about tax rates or the minutiae of government policy (believe me, I could talk your ear off about the benefits of progressive taxation). These are questions about what kind of country we want to be. Do we remain a representative democracy or transition into some form of fascist autocracy? We should act like adults, to summarize Atlantic writer Tom Nichols, and be worthy of the country bequeathed to us.
Question 5: Why bother with opinion columns anyway?
I believe that opinion journalism and reported commentary offer a vital window into current affairs. These pieces allow for a forthright stating of moral and ideological principles. They volunteer persuasive arguments on the most important issues of our day. They give writers flexibility and space to ponder in public.
This is why I do this job, and why it matters so very much to me.
I hope I’ve answered some of your questions on this bone-chilling day without wearing out my welcome. And if you ever want to know more, don’t hesitate to email me at [email protected]. Stay warm.
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