Friday, November 11, 2005

The Crime Blotter


“Things start in Kansas that finish in history”
- William Allen White (As noted in the Emporia Gazette, November 10, 2005)

It’s Veteran’s Day. I’ve already put my flag out, said a prayer for American sons and daughters serving in far flung posts around the world.

Thanks to a September, 2003 congressional resolution, Emporia is now officially recognized as the founding city of Veterans Day. Here, in 1953, the commemoration, which began in 1919 as Armistice Day, the good people of Emporia re-named the day in honor of Emporia veterans who had, and were still, serving their country. In about an hour and a half the parade will begin, complete with grizzled old vets, young men and women on active duty, fire trucks, floats, midget cars, and so forth. At eleven there’ll be a memorial service down at Soden’s Grove. At noon the American Legion is having a ham and bean feed. It will all be capped off at 7:30 tonight with a veteran’s recognition and USO show over at Albert Taylor Hall.

It feels safe around here. There are a few dogs barking, I suspect at Maisey, our calico cat, who is making her morning rounds. Down the street from me, the flag is also flying at Terry Bassler’s place. He went to Iraq over a year ago, got wounded, came back home, and is in the process of rehabilitating a leg that got riddled with shrapnel. As I took the trash out a few minutes ago I said a little prayer for him.

About two three blocks south of Terry’s place, close to the corner of 6th and Merchant, are the offices of the Emporia Gazette, which was founded by William Allen White. Almost every day we here in town are reminded by the Gazette that Mr. White won the Pulitzer Prize in 1922 for an editorial titled “To An Anxious Friend,” a passionate defense of free speech. I think they do so to remind us that free speech, spearheaded by a free press, is the most important right we have. I’ve told them more than once that, regardless of my sense that the Gazette and its current staff are operating in the flimsy shadow of a tradition, I would be the first one down there with a blunderbuss if the storm troopers ever tried to stop the presses. It’s my duty, irrespective of my feelings. While it would be nice to have a free and responsible press here, I’ve learned over six years that I’m more than likely going to have to settle for half of what I’d like. Even knowing that, I see that freedom of the press is to be cherished and protected.

Earlier this week, Patrick Kelley’s editorial about Scruffy’s Law really put the burr under my saddle. The proposed law, which is named after a small dog who was tortured with acid by a couple of really nasty individuals here in Kansas some years ago, is aimed at protecting pets like Scruffy by criminalizing such reprehensible behavior. I’m all for it. But what really infuriated me were Mr. Kelley’s references to “biblical constructionists” in the piece. I read it a few times and saw that it was his way of linking religious folk, particularly conservatives, with the sick behavior of a few. I don’t know if I qualify under his definition of “biblical constructionist,” but I can say that I do try to construct my life according to the precepts contained in Holy Writ. I may not always hit the nail on the head, but I give it my best shot each and every day. As far as animals go, I’ve not thought about kicking a dog since my days as an atheist. Right now there are four cats roaming around our place, all of whom Nancy and I rescued from bad circumstances.

I objected to the inference and decided to respond. The text of the response follows:

It took me two or three readings to see that there was more than met the eye in Patrick Kelley’s November 7th editorial. By adding a touch of biblical constructionism, a pinch of animal torture, a cup or two of Dennis Rader, then stirring in a gratuitous helping of Jeffrey Dahmer he’s attempting to subtly promote the notion that biblical constructionists, who may not believe pets have souls, have unleashed the ghouls who have plied their grisly trade on helpless animals like Scruffy.

I’m sure he would deny the undercurrent of his little piece in the same way politicians use plausible deniability to hide their misdeeds.

There was really no need for him to include the clumsy reference to biblical constructionists, but he did it anyway. Perhaps he couldn’t help himself. Constructionists and fundamentalists seem to be the perpetual deer in his headlights, so he just put the pedal to the metal and tried to mow ‘em down. Having a daily platform at the Merchant Street gulag made it all too easy for him to succumb to the temptation, as a constructionist I know might put it, to strain out the gnats so that his readers could swallow the camels.

I’ll make a deal with you, Mr. Kelley. I’ll take up Scruffy’s cause with you if you also help try to stop the legally sanctioned skewering of innocent unborn children along with us biblical constructionists, who do believe that unborn children have souls.

Finally, I have a suggestion for the Walkers or whoever might be running the show down there. Put a muzzle on Mr. Kelley, take him to the doghouse, and close the door once he’s in.

Then, two days ago, the Gazette took on the look of a big city tabloid. The front page was covered with mug shots of twelve of “Lyon County’s Most Wanted.” Along with the mug shots there was a photo of five of Emporia’s finest who were in the process of hunting the bad guys down. I didn’t notice it at first, Nancy did. A young man we know from church was one of the twelve. I see him occasionally at our Wednesday night men’s meetings. Like a lot of young people these days he’s been on a rocky road. What had he done to make the list? He’d failed to make a one hundred and seventy five dollar payment of a fine, the penalty for an offense that took place close to three years ago. As soon as our church’s pastor found out about it he took the young man over to the sheriff’s office and had him pay the fine.

The guys in our group spent some time praying for the young man. He’s trying to turn his life around and needs all the support he can get.

That should have been it, but it wasn’t. Last night’s Gazette continued its tabloid ways. There on page one was the same mug shot of the young man that had been posted the night before. Gwendolyn Larson, playing Breathless Mahoney to Emporia’s Dick Tracys, added a colorful headline – “Tips Lead To Arrests.” I read, then re-read the headline. “I thought he turned himself in,” I said to Nancy. I called our pastor and found that he had indeed turned himself in, paid the fine, and that should have been it.

Monday’s burr became Thursday’s bramble bush. I was furious. The fury reached a crescendo when I opened to page four, the editorial page. There in the center, occupying prime space, was Lynn Bonney’s editorial “No Respect.” Ms. Bonney rambled for about a thousand words, lamenting the fact that journalists are not held in high esteem these days. She noted that a recent Harris poll put them at sixteen percent, “five notches above the cellar,” as she put it. She just couldn’t understand how something so egregious could happen. After all, she noted, “some of the best, brightest and most honorable people I’ve ever known are journalists.” She then went on to outline the long hours, the Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays worked without overtime pay.

I’m really not a heartless person, but I couldn’t find myself shedding tears over Lynn Bonney’s lot in life. In fact, her self-serving thousand words only added to the fury ignited by Patrick Kelley’s editorial, two days of tabloid, and Breathless Mahoney’s headline. Knowing that my response wouldn’t be printed on the Gazette’s pages, I fired off an e-mail to Ms. Bonney, Gwendolyn Larson, and copied Ashley White Walker, who along with her husband Christopher White Walker, editor and publisher, labors in the shadow of the Pulitzer Prize William Allen White won back in the nineteen twenties. That e-mail follows:

On tonight's editorial page there was a piece by Lynn
Bonney that I found interesting.

Quite striking to me, as it was to her, was the
ranking journalists came out with in a recent Harris
poll. At sixteen percent I suspect that even drug
dealers and used car salesmen, had they been included,
would have scored higher.

Ms. Bonney couldn't understand, given the fact that
journalists have to get up at 2 a.m., work Saturdays,
Sundays, holidays, without overtime pay, supplying
their own transportation, no Runzheimer.

I suppose I should be sympathetic to her plight. But
I'm not. I spent forty years in the workplace, eight
of them in the Air Force, serving tours of duty in fun
places like Vietnam, Newfoundland, Panama. I worked
many a twenty hour day over those years. I never got
a dime in overtime. I couldn't even afford a car.
Seventy eight bucks a month didn't go far, even back
then. When I got out of the Air Force I had to find
my way in the world. I went to college, then to grad
school. I worked 58 hours a week in a packaging plant
to supplement the GI bill I got in order to get
through school. I've spent years in world of
business, again with lots of twenty hour days, days on
the road, many of them thousands of miles away from
home.

I also know a lot of people here in Emporia who work
long hours, without overtime, with very few perks.
Our pastor, for example, was at it late into the night
yesterday, going with a young man to turn himself in
to answer a bench warrant. The Gazette’s “Most
Wanted” piece did the trick. Congratulations! He
turned himself in (according to Gwendolyn Larson
he was arrested). We’ll see how things move from this
point on. I do know that he’ll give it
everything he has to do what is right and I know that
Pastor Mike and others who know him will work and
pray with him to that end.

I realize that stories about folks trying to redeem
their lives don't sell much copy, and that headlines
like “Tips Lead to Arrests” also sell more than “Young Man Trying To
Redeem His Life Turns Himself In.” I suppose it's the nature of the
beast.

Retirees didn't make it into the poll. Nonetheless, I
occasionally get hate mail and phone calls from folks
telling me I'm picking on Pat Kelley. Just a while
ago someone called and said some of the same things
Ms. Bonney said in her editorial. “Stop pickin’ on
Pat,” she said. But that's alright, I can take it. I suspect Pat
Kelley gets his share of hate mail and phone calls
too.

Journalism is, as Ms. Bonney said, hard work and the
ratings are low.

I took a few journalism courses in
college, read about Lincoln Steffens and really
admired the man. I read “Shame of the Cities” and
felt it was a real public service. Few like him will
ever pass this way again. I only wish the Gazette
would do as well. There's a meat packing plant down
the road I suspect could use some attention, and I
suspect, like Hearst, that a good reporter could find
more than a little bit of graft down at city hall if
he or she dug a bit. There are slum lords taking
advantage of the poor and minorites a few blocks from
the Gazette offices. And, the
editorial page could more closely reflect the values
of the folks who live here instead of almost
invariably running counter to them. But I neither own
nor operate the presses down on Merchant Street, so
all I can do is try to act as a counterweight. That,
I can assure you, has very few of the rewards
mentioned in her piece.

Yes, Ms. Bonney, journalism and copy editing are
difficult. So's retirement. So's pastoring. So's
driving a truck or cuttin' cows down on Highway 50.
Perhaps a bit more understanding of what happens
beyond the newsroom or in the lives of folks around
here would go a long way toward improving those poll
numbers.

The Veterans Day parade will be starting in about an hour. It’s in keeping with an important tradition, commemorating service to one’s country and lives lost in that service. A block away from the parade route, at the Gazette offices, Patrick Kelley, Gwendolyn Larson, Lynn Bonney, and the rest of the staff will enjoying the fruit of the service and sacrifice America’s sons and daughters have made over the centuries since we declared our independence and “conceived a new nation.” Those who served and died at Antietam, Belleau Wood, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, Khe Sanh, and Fallujah gave it their all. They got it all right! They served and died for, among other things, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Down at the Gazette they’re clinging to an old Pulitzer Prize, waving it in our faces like a red flag before a bull. They exercise freely what others served and died to give them. But, unlike the veterans Emporia will be honoring today, they have it only half right. Freedom comes with the burden of responsibility. They haven’t learned that lesson yet.

4 comments:

Choicemaker said...

The Humanist, Left, Liberal, Darwinian et al, do not seemingly perceive that we are born into a Causal universe.

In such a context, every cause produces some kind of effect - even as minor as depletion of energy.

In such a universe, only the human being is endowed with the ability to make choices - for good or ill.

Thus, every human can be held accountable for the results (effects) of his choice.

The liberal 'mind' wants only the results he wanted - not the poor results he didn't want. He can't seem to align himself with cause-effect. And, he can't control the results when his chosen cause is at odds with nature.

He can't align himself with cause-effect - except when it is $$$ payday!

The Lord says "...they are without excuse." amen

prying1 said...

Re Ms. Bonney: She just couldn’t understand how something so egregious could happen. After all, she noted, “some of the best, brightest and most honorable people I’ve ever known are journalists.”
~~~~~~~~~
Perhaps she does not realize that more than just a few journalists do not fit her description. Your description of their treatment of the young man who paid his fine proves the point.

Some of the readers of the Emporia Gazette (and other papers scattered about the land) are not stupid and will do their best to enlighten friends and neighbors to the truth.

Then the low esteem people have of journalists will drop lower...

Thank you for your service!

dog1net said...

Phil:
Good summation when you say, "Freedom comes with the burden of responsibility. They haven’t learned that lesson yet."
That could also be easily applied to the national media in regard to the morass they've fallen into with the second guessing as to why we went into Irag.
Scot

Gone Away said...

I don't envy that editor, having you look over his shoulder, Phil. :D