Dear Editorial Board of the Indianapolis Star:
cc: Gannett Publications
There have been a couple of times I’ve been strongly tempted to write a letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Star. One of those times was after the first article by the Opinion contributors, Chicks on the Right, Amy Jo Clark (Daisy) and Miriam Weaver (Mockarena). I was offended by the language, the level of enmity in the tone, and was disappointed in the subject matter. But I didn’t blog about it, didn’t express my offense on social media, and didn’t write a letter to the Star. I didn’t want to magnify the attention that the article was already generating; didn’t want to perpetuate the hateful language and broad brush denouncements; didn’t want to encourage further articles which reclaim feminism by viciously attacking, yep, women. Not to mention that @IndyStar‘s twitter feed stated that they had received record response to the initial foray by the Chicks on the Right.
So, my household continued to subscribe to the Star. I continued to read it, even the articles by the Chicks on the Right, because I thought, in the main, it is a good thing to have some local political voices in the mix with the nationally syndicated ones; because I think it’s a good thing to read positions which differ sometimes from my own. Because I was hoping that these new, happily local columnists would eventually say something relevant, interesting, informative, substantive, or at least entertaining. And I thought that certainly it wouldn’t be fair to judge the Chicks on the Right by one column, especially one that I thought just had to be their worst written moment. If nothing else, I thought, the professional editors at the Indianapolis Star will eventually request that their columnists select different topics or add some modifiers (“some liberals” instead of “the liberals”); will eventually remind the Chicks that writing for the newspaper is a little different from being on their radio show or writing for their personal blog.
Besides, loving newspapers as I do, I could understand the need to spice up the Opinion section with provocative, contentious, and even controversial voices: more attention generates more website clicks which generate survival.
But then, on Friday, January 10th, the Star published the latest column by the Chicks on the Right, “Host didn’t deserve Romney’s forgiveness,” which used the mistake of an MSNBC host, her apology to Mitt Romney, and Romney’s erroneous public generosity to one who had apologized to him and his family to illustrate how liberals are “low-information voters” “waging war against conservatives” by “calling us racists, homophobes, sexists, classists, ageists—” and yes, (all) liberals are calling all conservatives these things because “that’s pretty much the liberal narrative.”
Y’know, here’s where some editing would have been really great: if a writer is going to use a current event to prove an all-encompassing argument (“the liberals,” “these people,” the implicit “all”), then maybe the writer should choose something stronger or wider in scope than a weekend-cable-talk show host and someone who is not in office, running for office, or otherwise currently highly influential. Or, if the scope is going to be grand (“waging war,” “agenda,” “messaging”) and national, then the writers need to be asked to use the Harris-Perry/Romney thing as one of at least three supporting instances or to limit the column to only the Harris-Perry/Romney thing.
Or, modifiers again: “some liberals,” “some pundits,” “liberals in the media.”
It seems to me that the editors here could have suggested that if dirty politics and messaging is a complaint, perhaps the suggestion that Romney not forgive and politics should get dirtier from the conservative side isn’t the best way to make that point and that the point most certainly isn’t assisted by an attack on someone’s appearance (Harris-Perry’s earrings) or any kind of personal attack at all. An editor here could have also pointed out that if part of the idea the writers are expressing is that liberals paint conservatives with a broad and negative brush, it doesn’t work well, logically, for the writers to then paint “the liberals” (“these people”) as if they are one, cohesive, “low-information,” nasty, war-waging unit.
The editors of the Indianapolis Star could have pointed out to their columnists that they have written variations of this same article before (conservatives good/liberals bad/politics nasty) and it would be best if they expanded their topic base because the opinion pages are shrinking but valuable real estate and many, many journalists right now have no newspapers for their columns to appear in, let alone for countless variations on the same theme.
But at the very, very least, there are two things I would have expected the Indianapolis Star to do here: to not permit white writers to post any kind of inane insult to any part of a minority’s physical appearance and to never, ever permit the publication of references to a feminine hygiene product unless it’s contextually appropriate. Ever. And definitely not to do it twice in the same article.
For the Chicks on the Right, if politics are dirty, then maybe part of that is because we aren’t demanding it to be otherwise. And maybe it’s because our response is to crawl into the dirt. I don’t know. I’m not a columnist for a newspaper serving the 13th largest city in the country. Write something better, bigger, more important than messaging (instead of the how of the message, try tackling the what or why of the message). Leave the rest of it for your radio show and your blog. But not the paper.
For the Indianapolis Star and Gannett: do your job. I want newspapers to survive. I believe in the importance and value of a relatively local Fourth Estate. But there are ways to survive (exercise your editorial authority; be selective with your content) and there are ways that, if necessary to create revenue, just aren’t worth surviving for: namely, articles like this one which illustrate lack of judgment and include unnecessary crassness.
Your readers deserve better.
Michelle Railey, Greenwood, Indiana
Update 01/13/14: Regarding the earrings: Melissa Harris-Perry did make use of tampons as prop earrings in July of 2013 while she was discussing the events occurring in Texas regarding reproductive rights and the actions of police officers and protesters. In my point of view, this actually makes the editorial decisions of the Indianapolis Star even more inexplicably poor. When the editors were reviewing the article by Clark and Weaver pre-publication, why did they not insist that the authors either provide the context for their comments or remove the reference altogether? Without the context, the comments were incredibly distracting and offensive. Even with the context, the earring thing was neither necessary nor central to the arguments of Clark and Weaver, so what was the point of having the references there at all? Again, the column is an OpEd in a newspaper, not a blog post for a highly-dedicated and “in-the-know” self-selected group of conservatives (the Indianapolis Star is not Breitbart.com and it shouldn’t be; neither should it be a likewise self-selected and self-identified liberal outlet). The Indianapolis Star, in not carefully curating their content, did a disservice to its readers, its columnists, and itself. Additionally, this does not change the “all conservatives”/”all liberals” issue. The repeated columns and statements of this type which have appeared as both language by and topics for the Chicks on the Right are neither accurate nor particularly productive. So I think the Indianapolis Star, its editorial board, and its columnists should be more critical when they consider what they’re publishing. As readers and members of the community, maybe all of us (newspapers, writers, readers, people, self included) could benefit if we would be a little less reactive, a little more generous in our responses, and more clear and careful with our language.