Readers seeking "objectivity" won't find it here; the Chronicle is dedicated to advocacy and opinion, and always has been.
Maybe we should come up with a couple of icons to tag Chronicle letters, so we don't have to reiterate certain positions. Once I headlined a letter, "Have You Read the Chronicle?" Later I regretted this as too snide, but I have to admit the temptation to so tag a letter is sometimes almost overwhelming. The response to last week's cover story by Amy Smith on the boycott of the new Planned Parenthood clinic really brought this home. Any number of letters bemoaned our lack of "objective" reporting, accusing us of bias. Acknowledging right off that not only are we biased but, I hope, openly and obviously so, I have to ask, as I so often have, what "objective" means. Presenting "both" sides of a story? Does a story like the Planned Parenthood boycott only have two sides? Obviously not; there are many. Objective reporting would seem to me to suggest dispassionate reporting, in which all points of view are presented, detailing every fact of a situation. This is not only impossible but never even tried. In a complex situation like the boycott, there is no way to talk to representatives of every point of view and report all they have to say. Invariably, there are only certain people that journalists interview; subsequently, not all of them are quoted, and of those who are, only excerpts from the discussions are offered. All news, all reporting is molded and shaped, reflecting decisions by interviewees, writers, and editors.
Admitting to my secular-humanist credentials here: Which truth? Everyone involved has a different interpretation of what is going on; all have an emotional investment, a philosophical perspective, and a way of viewing the world. I'm willing to bet that most of the people who wrote in complaining our article wasn't fair to pro-life advocates have never written a letter to a publication claiming its coverage wasn't fair because it was too anti-choice. Fox News made painfully clear that most of those who charged mainstream media with a liberal bias were simply complaining that their biases weren't more adequately represented.
A friend once house-sat for a pro-development lobbyist who, not knowing about our friendship, decried the Chronicle. TV and the daily newspaper were great, she pointed out, because they were determined to present both sides of a story: No matter how outrageous her employers' position, she managed to get them to present it. Even if the piece didn't end up advocating her position, it at least made it look like all sides were being reasonable, which gave her employers a lot of room in which to be unreasonable.
Certainly, at the Chronicle we like our information to be as accurate as possible, but this is a publication dedicated to advocacy and opinion. If a reader can't figure this out immediately, then we're doing something wrong. Proudly, we regularly hear comments and receive mail from people who disagree with every opinion we have but who say they still read us because we do the best job of detailing and providing background on local and state issues. This is a publication of strong opinions, though they are not mandated nor necessarily completely shared by staff. This not only doesn't mean we share or advocate yours, it means we might not even respect it.
This issue, one letter-writer offers: "As a former journalist, reading your 'news' magazine is insulting.
"I see the Chronicle's crusade in the Dec. 5 cover story as a slap in the face to good journalism. There was no balance. Your coverage of the 'anti-abortion' side was paltry and highly patronizing.
"I don't have enough space to describe the myriad ways it is appalling, other than to point out one small, pathetic example of unneeded editorializing: 'As the right-wing assault on reproductive health care rights continues ...'
"Great. Your biased, ignorant viewpoint will be lauded by the choir of Range Rover-driving liberals in Austin! Kudos."
OK, the Chronicle offers "news," but it is not a "news" magazine and has never claimed to be such. Time for the icon here, if you find our coverage of the anti-legal-abortion crowd "paltry and highly patronizing." Our position on choice and personal freedom should be crystal-clear by now. We are accused of "unneeded editorializing"; sorry, the very reason -- the only reason -- this publication exists is to editorialize. If you don't want to hear our opinion, you probably shouldn't read us. This doesn't mean you have to agree with us: Finding a position clearly laid out is informative whether you don't agree with a word of it or, if undecided, you are just thinking about the topic. What if, instead of "As the right-wing assault on reproductive health care rights continues," we had written, "The Republican Party, not forgetting its commitment to life, is moving forward to the day that the promise of the right to life will be a guarantee"? Do you think the writer would have complained?
Another letter-writer cites studies connecting breast cancer to abortion without ever citing a source. A legitimate one doesn't exist (though, as indicated in the response, what information there is strongly argues against the writer's conclusions), as most scientific studies are more suggestive and less conclusive than the media might suggest. I'm betting the source is an anti-legal-and-safe-abortion Web site. What I really find insulting about this charge is the notion that if there were concrete evidence, Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups would ignore it in their passion for abortions. The reverse is true; many of the anti-legal-abortion crowd are as uninterested in women's health concerns as they are in the well-being of the child after delivery.
"Your article about Chris Danze was appalling. Instead of portraying him as the upstanding, politically savvy, religiously sound man he is, you have to make him out to be some sort of religious fanatic and monster. That is unmitigated bunk. Stop trying to fool others into thinking that pro-life people are irrational and extreme. We want to save children's lives and protect women from the damaging effects of killing their own kin! What is so difficult to understand about that? We are pro-woman, pro-child, and pro-life!" argues another writer.
I'm sorry, threatening people's jobs if they disagree with you is not "upstanding." Protecting women does not involve restricting their rights. I'm definitely willing to support "pro-life," if that means a societal commitment to the health, education, and well-being of the mother, both long before and long after birth, and child, no matter that child's economic class, race, or health. Otherwise, at best, you are pro-birth, which has nothing to do with being pro-life.
Then there is this wonderful comment: "Can you maybe, just maybe try for a bit of objective reporting? Would you have called, say, Martin Luther King a 'rabble rousing nigger' or other such nonsense? I doubt it, yet it is OK to make a caricature and launch thinly veiled attacks against someone who believes in the sanctity of life. Scary the standards by which you 'reported' this story."
It's not simply that we won't try for objective reporting; we stay away from it. Likewise, I always try to stay away from fascist/Nazi/WWII comparisons, as they are rarely justified and usually represent lazy thinking. Similarly, an interesting recent development has been Martin Luther King Jr.'s being cited as a totem to advocate social positions by folks who might not be or might not have been the strongest supporters of civil rights. King is used even if the positions are at odds with his beliefs. When the Supreme Court made its very weak endorsement of affirmative action recently, letter-writers across the country were openly disappointed that King's "dream" was now not to be realized. Utter garbage; the dream wasn't that we would all be equal immediately, but that someday this would be true. Affirmative action is a step toward realizing that dream. Denying the consequences of discrimination, unequal education, and denied opportunities to generations of minorities does not come any closer to making us equal. Comparing King to someone threatening people's jobs and then bragging of this bullying isn't exactly reasonable. Still, we didn't use a pejorative in discussing Chris Danze, but aren't that surprised the letter-writer did.
As with all these letter-writers, we were touched to see the anti-legal-and-safe-abortion crowd quote Mother Teresa in today's American-Statesman. We know this means they're going to stop threatening those they disagree with as well as discontinue their advocacy of a blacklist. Otherwise, the ad would be just a hypocritical, opportunistic, disgusting political ploy, and all the letter-writers quoted above assure us they're above that.
(Finally, as an aside: As a child of the Fifties, red-baiting, and blacklists, I don't support boycotts.)