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One Woman's Opinion

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In Pursuit of Fairness

Urbanna, Va.— Readers may have noticed in the week before the election my usual column in the Sentinel was missing. For discerning readers, it could have been found on page A4 next to the community calendar, not as “One Woman’s Opinion,” but in the form of a paid political ad.

by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Why? The Southside Sentinel wants to be fair to all. Since my column was political in nature (“Viva La Dreams!” and written in support of Senator McCain for President), it would not have been deemed fair to Democrats and their candidate, Barack Obama (who won the election), because there would not have been time for them to respond to my opinion.

It would have been the very same for Republicans. If I had written a column in support of Obama the week before the election, it would still be deemed unfair because the Republicans would not have had time to respond.

My column on election week, for those who did not see it, was about Joe the Plumber, and how I could identify with the man’s dream to own his own business because I had once owned a business myself. Since I knew firsthand about problems that face business owners, for example, having to meet a payroll every week, I wanted to share with readers.

But I am also concerned about fairness to readers who wanted to read my opinion on election week. It did not seem fair they would be denied my column. Husband Chip finally solved the problem by buying an ad in the Sentinel, which ran my story as a paid political ad.

Editor Tom Hardin also published a Letter to the Editor from me on page A2 advising readers that my column was posted on my website that week. In addition, “Viva La Dreams” went out on the internet via email and spread like wildfire across the Worldwide Web. It was even picked up by organizations and sent on to their memberships. I am still amazed at the feedback from “Viva La Dreams!” as to how rapidly material moves on the internet.

The Southside Sentinel works hard to be fair to everyone who wants to share opinions, especially during a heated political campaign. My column is an opinion column. It is impossible for a writer of opinion all year long not to write opinion during an election. The Sentinel does not endorse or even necessarily agree with my opinions. They are simply my opinions. I want to be sure my readers understand this.

I take my hat off to hard-working Sentinel editor Tom Hardin for the good job he does to ensure that all sides of issues can be expressed in the Sentinel. It is not an easy job.

In the future during the last weeks of an election, I will condense whatever is my political opinion into a simple Letter to the Editor of 350 words or less—just like everyone else. I also will post my opinion as a full column on my website along with sending it out on the email. That way, I will know I am doing my best to be fair to all concerned, including readers who wish access to my column every week.

That settled, I have always been honest about my political leanings. I am not an official member of any political party, nor do I make a perfect fit, but I generally consider myself Republican and pro-business.  

Those who read me each week, however, know that I am not a dogmatic thinker or a party hack. I have both conservative and liberal sides just like most people. I take special care to stay informed on positions on the left by reading the “New Yorker” each week, and the “Atlantic” magazine each month along with the Sunday Washington Post to counter-balance my conservative thinking.   

I have been exceedingly liberal on occasion. In 1988, for example, I was one of the few columnists (perhaps the only one) writing in Virginia on behalf of opening VMI to qualified women. I always support women and I recognize no gender restrictions. I am also a longtime supporter of Roe vs. Wade. Neither of these positions are considered conservative.

As is usual, I have spent the last few weeks thinking about the fairness doctrine. I must admit I see some humor in what we so seriously endeavor to do in “being fair.”

It is amusing that some feel we must now officially refute each other. That our ideas don’t necessarily stand or fall on their own merit; that we somehow believe readers who read one set of opinions one week must have them officially refuted by the other side the following week.

Ideas are the backbone of democracy. They should be shared and openly discussed in this public forum every week on page A2 of our newspaper. Ideas are the most important gifts any of us can give to our community. But, probably, readers are intelligent enough to read ideas and make their own thoughtful judgments, without them being refuted in the next week’s issue.

I doubt that views from local writers, like myself, are so dangerous and persuasive that, if not refuted the following week by opposing views, they would swing an election.

Nor do I need to refute anyone else’s ideas. In fact, I am ever hungry for reading ideas of others and look forward to seeing them on page A2 each week. It makes no difference whether I agree or disagree with someone else’s opinions. The bottom line is this: I want to read them. I suspect most readers feel the same way and turn to page A2 as soon as they pick up the Sentinel each week.

Let us express our views, debate the issues freely, and always with a mind for fairness. But let us be tolerant, too, of other opinions. Remember, if we can only read letters that we agree with, it may be a sign we no longer live in a free society with a free press. ©2008

posted 11.19.2008

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