Easily Shocked

Ted Diadiun, the Plain Dealer reader representative, is easily shocked and slightly confused. Mr. Diadiun quoted the French philosopher Voltaire in yesterday’s P.D. “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” His shock came when many of the Plain Dealer’s readers, the very people he supposedly represents, were angered by his paper’s actions. His confusion resides in the relationships between his employer and its readers and the general population with its sources of news and information.

I have always been amused by the concept of newspaper endorsements. Endorsements are often as easy to predict as they are to parody. In 1992, as the head writer for a local weekly, I endorsed Franklin Delano Roosevelt and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. More recently, I predicted the Plain Dealer’s backing of Matt Dolan for Cuyahoga County Executive, not in October 2010, but back in March. My willingness to cover all bets came off as so confident that I unfortunately scared away all takers.

Some people take endorsements very seriously.

Last week the Plain Dealer’s editorial board recommended a “Yes” vote on Issue 2. There was all of the requisite hand-wringing, but in the end the paper that cavalierly endorsed John Kasich for governor in 2010 wasn’t about to emasculate him in 2011. The prudent move would have been to sit this one out. Nothing short of a defeat in November would force Governor Kasich to the bargaining table. Begging him to be magnanimous in victory was a foolish waste of ink. Or terribly cynical.

This Sunday’s Plain Dealer had the predictable letters to the editor thanking and cursing the endorsement. The Forum section also had on the front page an article from Harriet Applegate of the Northshore AFL-CIO that recommended a “No” vote on Issue 2. As I read it I kept wondering if its prominent placement was to appease aggrieved readers. Then I read Mr. Diadiun’s column.

Mr. Diadiun was shocked and amazed that readers, and by the tone of his article I suspect lots of readers, called up the P.D. and cancelled their subscriptions. Shouldn’t we defend to the death the right of the Plain Dealer to publish anything no matter how vile or injurious? Well, NO. As Americans we support the right of the press to publish freely, we are not required to personally support any particular publication.

His confusion lies in this paragraph:

So let me get this straight: You buy the paper, often for years or decades, because it contains news, information and entertainment you need, and cannot find anywhere else – and then because a group of editorial writers examines a situation and reaches a conclusion that differs from your own, you throw all that good stuff away?

First of all, there is very little in today’s Plain Dealer that couldn’t be found anywhere else. Many of the best columns were actually first published in the New York Times or other major papers. Local news can be found in a myriad of places including AOL’s new local Patch system. We are not dependent on the Plain Dealer. It is just one more resource.

More importantly, Mr. Diadiun fails to understand that actions have consequences. What can the Plain Dealer’s readers do to express their anger? Teachers, fire fighters, police, and other public employees feel that they are under siege. Were they supposed to just shrug their shoulders and continue to support an organization aligned with their adversary? Cancelling their subscriptions is the only weapon they’ve got.

Mr. Diadiun is the readers’ representative. Instead of condemning and mocking them, he might be more successful if he took the time to understand their pain and anger. They weren’t betrayed by the Plain Dealer. If the paper was on any side, it wasn’t theirs.

Will I cancel my subscription? Of course not. I expected nothing more nor nothing less from the Plain Dealer. It is just a newspaper, one more source of information and entertainment. And besides, I like the comics.

2 thoughts on “Easily Shocked

  1. One can easily cancel the PD in protest. It happened all the time in my early teen years. When my forner customer eventually resubscribed, I made sure he found his newspaper in the bushes for at least a few weeks.
    This type of protest causes the loss of jobs. No one can be a smaller business owner than a Newspaper carrier. Small business is everyone’s business.

    If you want to protest the PD, post the answers to the puzzles by 6:00am each morning on your blog.

    The Jewish philosopher Henny Youngman once said: “I love what you write, and I would give my wife to make it possible for me to be right.”

  2. If Mr. Diadiun is a sort of watered-down ombudsman, then he should have been able to foresee quite clearly that 50% (or more) of the paper’s readers would take offense at the paper’s “yes on 2” stance. Personally, it makes my blood boil: I have a friend who will almost certainly be cut loose in a politically motivated housecleaning at Kent State if it passes.

    But to take offense is one thing; to feel the need to do something about it is another. One only bothers to react if one feels the original action had weight. I suspect that most of the PD’s readers feel as you do, that it is just a source of information with some comics, not that its positions hold authority or actually influence people. Considering that virtually all publications–print and otherwise–are more responsive to their advertisers than to their readers, personally I concluded long ago that most opinions expressed are bought rather than principled, so they hold no authority or influence with me. (A prominent exception is Consumer Reports.) And that is probably what Mr. Diadiun expected: that nobody would cancel their subscription because nobody thought the PD’s opinions mattered.

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