As someone who has criticized the News & Record on multiple occasions for allowing writers of letters to the editor to spew fanciful notions as if they were fact, I feel obliged to recognize the paper’s efforts to correct such misimpressions not once but twice today.
First, in his LTE regarding the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Mark Underwood of Eden incorrectly stated: “The police officer said he told Rice to ‘put his hands up’ three times before shooting. This hasn’t been officially disproven so far.” The accompanying editor’s note read, “According to the police video, the Rice shooting took 1.5 seconds.” Here’s the video; feel free to use your own stopwatch. And ask yourself: If you were to tell a suspect three times, “Put your hands up!” and allow even the briefest moment in between repetitions for the suspect to comply, how long wold that have taken? Five seconds? Longer? Longer, certainly, than the time it took the police to shoot Tamir Rice upon their arrival.
Then, Ramon Bell of Stokesdale states of the death of Eric Garner from a chokehold by New York City police: “This should never have been classified a homicide. It was caused by the acts of Garner and existing medical conditions only he knew about; i.e., severe asthma, something the arresting officers had no reason to know.” I’m not sure where Bell, a retired Greensboro police officer, got his medical degree — Kmart, perhaps. But, as the editor’s note points out: “The medical examiner concluded that a chokehold caused Garner’s death, but added that asthma, obesity and cardiovascular disease were contributing factors.” If the chokehold caused Garner’s death, then this was a homicide — whether justifiable or not is up to a court to decide, inasmuch as chokeholds are banned.
The N&R has been punked many times by letter writers both sincerely misguided and flatly dishonest, as well as having published a number of Internet chain emails that were never independently verified. It’s good to see the paper attempting to sort through the dross to enlighten its readers, if only for a day.
For a good while, a number of other local bloggers, most prominently Ed Cone and Roch Smith Jr., have taken the News & Record to task for publishing letters to the editor that contain untrue assertions of fact. I’ve even sent editorial-page editor Allen Johnson a private email or two on that subject.
Well, today we get a twofer. We hear from one Steven M. Shelton, who complains that smoking shouldn’t have been banned on county property because notions that second-hand smoke is harmful are “the old cliche” and “nonsense.” And we also are treated by Gary Marschall to the already-debunked notion that “recent findings” involving carbon-14 testing of T-rex tissue indicate that the fossil in question was only about 6,000 years old. (In point of fact, the people pushing that line are distorting what researcher Mary Schweitzer said to the point of mendacity — and ignoring the fact that she said her own findings are not to be taken as evidence that dinosaurs existed as recently as 6,000 years ago.)
I think we can safely assume that now the News & Record is just trolling us.
Memo to N&R editor/publisher Jeff Gauger and owner BH Media: I get that you want the N&R to be a community paper. And that’s exactly what you should want; we’re all going elsewhere for national and international news. But “community” means focused on local people, events, and businesses. It does not mean giving a voice to every mouth-breathing knuckle-dragger with a keyboard and an opinion. It does not mean mindless boosterism or abdicating the paper’s responsibility for accountability journalism. As you aren’t from ’round here, I feel obliged to point out that not all that long ago, a North Carolina newspaper with a circulation of about 10,000 won a Pulitzer Prize.
People in small and medium-sized communities need, and deserve, journalism as good as — or better than — what people get in major metropolitan areas. And because so many such communities have few or no other news outlets capable of, or willing to engage in, accountability journalism and an overall level of trustworthiness that translate into engagement with readers and advertisers, it falls to the newspapers to do the job. Like it or not, BH Media, this is the business you have chosen. It might not be realistic to expect a Pulitzer from the N&R, but it damned sure is realistic — in fact, it’s a pretty low bar — to expect that the paper refrain from adding to the ever-growing pile of bullshit that now constitutes our public discourse.