How to Institutionalize Hate Speech: Part 2, An Open Letter to Chris Mertes

The Sun Prairie Recall Office, all aglow. Stop by and sign the petitions! 1571 Ivory Drive
In a recent editorial, Sun Prairie Star editor Chris Mertes makes a house-of-cards case for Democrats being responsible for the climate of political discourse, using a few examples of facebook pages and posts he doesn't like, and ignoring altogether actual incidents of local violence and hate speech (including the threatening call I myself received and he had reported in the Police Blotter column of The Star). He claimed he had no knowledge of any other incidents, which is, I suppose, possible, but if true, a very sobering reflection of the integrity of the hometown paper.  Jeff Simpson, who writes for Forward Lookout and Blogging Blue, took Mertes to task for this piece.  I very highly recommend it. You can read it here: "An Open Letter to Christopher Mertes."

I wrote my own letter to the editor, which he did not publish because it apparently exceeded the word limit on letters to the editor.  Interestingly, in his response to some resoundingly negative comments to the online post of that editorial, Mertes argues that allowing such comments is proof that he is open to alternative perspectives:
If we did not want other viewpoints to be aired, why would we have a website that allows commentary, albeit as misinformed and misguided as yours is, to be printed?
Misinformed? Misguided? Not exactly raising the bar on the sort of civil discourse he's appealing to in his editorial, is it? Note that the "you" he refers to here is Sun Prairie resident Barb Muse, a retired educator, grandmother and active recall volunteer who is as "informed" and "guided" a person as you may ever hope to meet. Insulting her in a public forum is hardly the display of decorum that encourages one to believe Mertes was sincere in his calls for civility.

I admit to having years ago cancelled my subscription, and I only occasionally follow the website. But The Star did not cover the local recall effort at all to my knowledge (beyond online publication of our two press releases) until this article came out on Dec. 21, 2011, less than three weeks before the end of the 60-day recall effort.  The article, by Rachel Wittrock, ironically makes clear that a priority concern for recall workers is to restore civility and a spirit of neighborly respect to the political climate that has vanished under the intolerant administration of Scott Walker.  The recall process began full-force on Nov. 15 and the Sun Prairie recall team has since collected about 7,000 signatures and its volunteers have been the subject of numerous other press engagements - including the Wisconsin State Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, several local television and radio channels, and national outlets like The Ed Schultz Show (tv and radio) and The New Yorker magazine. News of the death threat I received got even broader coverage. We have regularly staffed two or more locations from 8am-8pm and held visible and publicized events throughout this time.  We have nearly 400 active volunteers - significantly more people, incidentally, than are "fans" of the The Star's facebook page. And yet The Star didn't find any of this newsworthy until late December.

I will repeat here the call I made in my own letter to Mr. Mertes: it's time for The Star to star inviting editorials from people with differing perspectives.  Not doing so damages the credibility of the paper and its value to a diverse community. And it actively promotes the very sort of discourse Mr. Mertes claims to oppose. We should expect nothing less from our local paper, and we shouldn't have to beg for it. If we want to promote civil dialogue, let's start by actually having one.

1 comment:

  1. Gee! This joker of an editor sounds like the identical twin of the editor of the Victoria [Texas] Advocate. The slighest critical remark, and your comment is zapped. Keep it up, and your entire history is zapped, too and you are banned.

    Well, you guys hang in there. Y'all are making history and the rest of us are watching!