Posts Tagged ‘opinion pages’

I don’t usually post here the opinion pieces I write, but this is not just local and in many ways not even just a state issue.

It’s a fact that boycotts are blunt instruments, particularly when aimed at an entire state. Allies as well as foes get hurt.

South Carolina businesses learned that during boycotts over display of the Confederate flag. Indiana businesses learned that during boycotts over that state’s short-lived “religious freedom” law that allowed businesses to refuse service to homosexuals.

A column in the New York Times by Linda-Marie Barrett of Malaprops Bookstore/Café in Asheville illustrates the collateral damage being done now to North Carolina businesses over House Bill 2’s repeal of anti-discrimination protections in various cities and its explicit allowance, by omission from the list of protected classes, of any kind of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Barrett complains that despite her business’s stance against HB2, “Customers from other states tell us they won’t visit until the law is no more. More threatening to us financially and to our community culturally is the cancellation of events by authors.”

In her column she asks authors to reconsider boycotting North Carolina bookstores because the stores need the revenue that author visits bring, and their local customers need to be lifted up.

She has a point, but the whole point of a statewide boycott is the economic havoc it can wreak, ultimately impacting as many legislators’ districts as possible and the entire state economy as a whole to create a sense of urgency that otherwise would be missing. Appeals to compassion have limited effects, but the power of the purse is strong, which is why boycotts are so often effective.

Senate President Phil Berger, a living blunt instrument who is the ultimate force that would have to be overcome to repeal HB2, is a lawyer from the tiny town of Eden, in Rockingham County. What exactly could anyone boycott that he would care about? Not much. Even if there were something, Berger has proven to be a “my way or the highway” kind of fellow.

That means his political allies in the legislature have to be convinced to change their minds and risk Berger’s wrath. Without a boycott, how would anyone do that? Protests? Sit-ins? The “Moral Mondays” protests have well established that the legislators are utterly immune to such appeals. But many of them are businesspeople or live in districts with businesses that are being affected by the boycott, or else their pet projects will be affected by a decline in state revenue needed to support them.

The question is how many millions of dollars the state’s economy will have to lose — how many hundreds or thousands of new jobs have to be withdrawn by companies canceling plans to grow here — before enough of HB2’s backers are willing to admit the whole thing is a sham.

And that’s what the law is, a sham. There was no enforcement mechanism written into the feature of the law that its backers most vocally defend, the requirement for people to use the public restrooms that correspond with the sex identified on their birth certificate. Politicians have raised the false specter of sexual predation in the restroom, ironically by heterosexual men posing as women, to justify all the rest of the bill’s discriminatory elements (and its completely unrelated prohibition of local minimum-wage rules). Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, told the Washington Post, “Moms want to be able to send their 11-year-old daughters into the bathroom and not worry about grown men being in there.”

Woodhouse is right, mothers do want that — but HB2 does not a single thing to make sure no grown men are in the women’s room. The law puts no police in the restroom and takes no steps to actually control who uses which room. There was no way before HB2 to prevent a sexual predator from entering any restroom, and there remains no way under HB2 to prevent it. There also is no new punishment in HB2 for anyone caught in the act.

In other words, HB2 does nothing more than shout angrily into the wind. That’s why the outside world has heard only anger in its passage.

Passing the law had only one point: Creating passion in a voter base that is perceived as dispirited by the presidential campaign and that may not turn out in large numbers this fall.

But that backfired and made the state the target of national scorn, as did Gov. Pat McCrory’s ham-fisted executive order last week that left all of HB2’s major features intact even as he insisted, falsely, that he was acting to remove the reason for the boycott. All his executive order did was gift-wrap a reason for the national media to do more stories about the boycott, what prompted it and illustrate that McCrory’s order did nothing to change it.

It’s not fair that Malaprops and other businesses are being made to pay the price for a cynical election-year strategy, and it’s not fair that hundreds or thousands of North Carolinians will not be able to seek high-paying jobs with PayPal or Deutsche Bank or any of the other companies canceling their plans here.

But fairness was never the point behind HB2. Damage was. And damage it has wrought.

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The last two or three weeks I have received a higher-than-usual number of calls complaining that the News-Topic editorial page is nothing but liberal opinions. In particular, many of those complaining say we are constantly criticizing Gov. Pat McCrory and never have anything bad to say about President Barack Obama.

The complaints themselves were not unusual, but the run of calls was. Because I have tried to more or less have a balance of opinion on the News-Topic opinion pages since I arrived seven months ago, I feel a little defensive about such calls.

But I had to wonder.

Since calls have picked up only in the past few weeks, last week I pulled out the past month’s worth of papers and went through them, and I have to say that whatever editorial pages these callers have been reading, they don’t seem to be the ones I put together.

Here’s the rundown:

From July 21 to Aug. 23, the News-Topic has run 48 editorials. Only two mainly were about something McCrory did: one was positive, one was negative, and both were written by me. Politically speaking, 20 editorials could clearly be identified as coming from the left side of the spectrum, 13 from the right, two from the middle, and five addressed non-partisan topics, such as the legal trouble of UNC basketball player P.J. Hairston or the idea that complaints against judges should not be handled entirely behind closed doors.

So on the one hand, yes, it is fair to say that the News-Topic has run more editorials, both our own and from other sources, that come from the left – but it is less than half of the total, 41.6 percent, so it is not fair to say that we present nothing but liberal opinions in our editorials.

As for the opinion columns that carry the name of the writer, however, there is not much room for complaint. During the same time period, the News-Topic has run 35 columns: 12 from the left (13 if you count the column I wrote a few weeks ago admitting to a rush to judgment that resulted in a left-leaning editorial), 14 from the right, six from the middle, and six on non-partisan topics, such as the wedding of publisher Terese Almquist’s daughter.

And when it comes to editorial cartoons, the people who should be complaining are the liberals. From July 21 to Aug. 23, there were four cartoons from a perspective on the left, 12 from the right, four from the middle, and nine on non-partisan topics such as the weather.

In other words, less than 15 percent of our cartoons have been liberal or critical of Republicans, but more than 40 percent of the cartoons have been conservative or critical of liberals – especially President Obama, the target of nine cartoons. McCrory, I would note, was the target of one cartoon.

Nine cartoons targeting Obama in a negative way – that’s hardly “never” having anything negative to say. If you try to argue that a cartoon doesn’t equal an editorial, I would have to disagree. A picture is worth a thousand words, and I will bet that more people look at any cartoon than any editorial (most of which run less than 1,000 words). Take Friday’s cartoon depicting Obama as a weather vane atop the sphinx. You could take 1,000 words to criticize Obama’s position on the turmoil in Egypt, or lack of one, but would those words really be more pointed than that image?

It is not possible to present a 100-percent-balanced opinion page. For one thing, the pool of editorials available to me – from other Paxton Media papers in North Carolina, from the McClatchy-Tribune wire service, and three a week through the Associated Press – is somewhat limited, both on topics and viewpoints. I struggle to find middle-of-the-road or non-partisan editorials that don’t repeat others I have already run.

Because of that, one caller suggested I should write more pro-conservative editorials. I could try, but I don’t write just to hear myself type. I would rather not gin myself up into an artificial froth on either end of the political spectrum just to fill a quota.

In editorial cartoons, it is fairly easy, within the resources available to the News-Topic, for me to find conservative editorial cartoons. Why there are more conservative cartoonists than liberal ones in this pool is for others to figure out, I just know it helps me balance the page.

And while it also is generally easier for me to find signed opinion columns that are liberal than conservative (during the middle of summer, especially, conservatives often seemed to go on vacation, while the liberals stayed in Raleigh pounding their keyboards), there is a sufficient supply for me to keep things close to even.

This is not to say I will dismiss all future complaints about the tilt of the opinion pages here. But I’m sticking with what I have been doing, because the numbers say I’m pretty close to my target of presenting balance.

Of course, some callers say I should not have balance – that this is a conservative county, so all of the opinions on the page should be conservative. For reasons cited above, that would be pretty close to impossible to achieve, but I also don’t think that makes sense. By that reasoning, newspapers in counties where Democrats are in the majority should ignore Republican opinions entirely. I’m sure the Republicans living there would not like that idea. Besides, if all you want to read are things that reinforce what you already think, there’s no point in reading at all.

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