Conservatives, we need to talk. Im saying this for your own good.
By DEREK DONOVAN
The Kansas City Star
On Oct. 4, political reporter Steve Kraske wrote in his analysis of the previous nights presidential debate that he thought it was a tossup, while the prevailing sentiment was that Mitt Romney had won. A verbatim sampling of the many objections I heard:
I hope you all lose your jobs.
Idiots, liars and scum.
You son of a bitch!
Are these intemperate voices representative of conservatives in general? Absolutely not, just as the vicious anonymous comments on Internet stories about the KU/MU rivalry dont give an accurate picture of the character of those teams fans.
Ive been talking with readers for a long time now, and as anyone who watches this column knows, the vast majority of criticism I bring up comes from the conservative side of the aisle. That reflects the overall balance of what I get.
But Id be lying if I didnt confess that I usually have to do a great deal of filtering to blunt some of the language and tamp down the hyperbole to make it publishable in the paper.
The harshest, most demeaning readers often contact reporters and especially opinion columnists directly. Ive heard voicemail that was crude enough to shock anyone as it denounced liberalism (anonymously, of course).
Jim Saksa recently wrote on Slate.com about his experiences as a confessed aggressive, inconsiderate bicyclist. He is fully aware that his own belligerent behavior on his bike contributes to many motorists perception that all cyclists are selfish daredevils.
Saksa cites studies that show cyclists are actually getting safer. Still, every time a car has a close call with a bike zipping between cars in a traffic jam, its understandable that the driver thinks, Cyclists are all dangerous nuisances.
Thats also what happens every time a reader disagrees with something in The Star and fires off an email calling the writer a moron, a liar or worse. By definition, hotheads seek out attention disproportionate to their numbers but unfortunately, they also make the most vivid impression.
My advice to conservatives who want journalists to take their message to heart:
Avoid exaggeration. A caller recently told me The Star puts a list of reasons we should re-elect Obama on the front page every day, but we never hear anything good about Romney. Starting with a simple misstatement of fact like this makes productive discussion all but impossible.
Give specifics. I agree that there are too many opinion pieces from the left in The Star on balance. But dont just sputter and fume about the deck being stacked, and dont merely attack the writers you disagree with. Give me data to buttress your point to the editors who make the decisions. Dispassionate facts speak louder than emotions.
Dont assume conspiracy. Theres usually a reason when the thousands of professional journalists give short shrift to a big story that the ideologues hammer on relentlessly. Remember that the news is a highly competitive business. Theres no cabal coordinating hundreds of unrelated newsrooms to act in concert.
Acknowledge uncomfortable realities. I reject flatly the absurd idea that all GOP voters are frightened bigots. However, theres no denying that some committed hate groups have piggybacked onto the conservative message on subjects such as health care or immigration reform. Remember that journalists do hear from those people too. Its rational conservatives (unfair) task to set themselves apart.
Ill always continue to give voice to the best criticisms I hear from readers, from either the right or the left.
And for those of you on the liberal side of the issues, dont pat yourselves on the back for your superior level-headedness. Ill be back next week to make you mad at me, too.