Public Editor

Did ‘ignorant’ in opinion column headline go too far?

First things first: The content of opinion columns and blog posts doesn’t fall under my purview as The Star’s public editor. My main charge is to look at issues of accuracy and fairness, but there’s no such thing as a “fair” opinion. As long as the facts are kept straight, I don’t normally get involved in disputes over the sentiments expressed.

However, I do think readers sometimes make particularly nuanced points about how some opinions are conveyed, so I think this recent email is worth sharing. In reference to the online-only headline “Government employees produce nothing, says ignorant Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick of Johnson County” on a post by Yael T. Abouhalkah, criticizing remarks by Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick, one reader wrote:

We don't all have to agree on our politicians’ direction and path they are taking, and this newspaper over the years has done an excellent job in informing its readers to the issues. But this headline in particular seems completely unbalanced, even for an editorial.

Yael does an excellent job in engaging readers in the local issues, but you guys don't offer a differing point of view from Yael’s, from a local columnist engaged in the community.

… I don't think an apology or some other form of public acknowledgment in this lapse of judgment is necessary because this was an editorial column, but I do think it is appropriate for The Star to examine ways for more balanced editorial content on local issues. Fostering a dialogue has to be more advantageous for The Star and its loyal subscribers than fostering division.

His overall point was that the vehemence of the word distracted from the column’s message — a subjective call, but one I can understand. I can also appreciate editorial page editor Steve Paul’s reply:

I can certainly understand your issue with tone and the use of the word “ignorant,” but I’ve got to say that in this case the headline is well supported by Yael’s portrayal of the speaker and his comments.

In my experience, readers want different things from the Opinion section writers. Some appreciate the bold, take-no-prisoners approach, while others appeal for The Star to be more analytical. “Be the anti-Fox News/anti-MSNBC screaming heads,” a reader once memorably told me.