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Published: 8/19/2007

Headline on editorial page generates reader criticism

Time to take a few (gentle) slaps at the editorial page editors. Not for their stands on any major political questions of the day, but for issues of grammar, omission, and one case where we really went to the dogs.

Toledoan Daniel Harris was unhappy with a headline The Blade put over one letter that appeared Aug. 8, a letter that criticized Democrats who want an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

The Blade's headline said, "Democrat posturing won't fool voters." Mr. Harris complained: "As I am sure you know, the use of 'Democrat' as an adjective is a pejorative, a slur that goes back at least to the days of Sen. Joe McCarthy of Red Scare infamy As a Democrat, I found this profoundly offensive."

Historically, he is correct, except that it was Thomas E. Dewey, the twice-unsuccessful Republican presidential nominee, who began using the harsher-sounding "Democrat." The infamous Mr. McCarthy made it better known during his televised red-baiting hearings, and in 1956, Leonard Hall, then Republican National Chairman, said he thought all Republicans should use it.

He dropped the "ic" from Democratic, he said, because "I think their claims that they represent the great mass of the people, and we don't, is a lot of bunk."

However, use of the term backfired on a young Bob Dole when he was running for vice president in 1976. During his televised debate with Walter Mondale, Mr. Dole, himself a grievously wounded World War II veteran, referred to that and other 20th century conflicts as "Democrat wars."

That prompted outrage from some in both parties, especially because of its suggestion that Democrats were somehow warmongers. For a few years after that, there was a lot less use of "Democrat" in place of Democratic.

So then why did The Blade editors use it in this headline? By accident. Newspapers have a dirty little secret. Much of the time, it is not a case of "All the News that's Fit to Print," but one of "All the News That Fits, We Print."

The headline writer was trying to write a headline that fit over the space. Dave Shutt, The Blade's editorial director, acknowledged we could have done better, however. "It could have said 'Democratic posture' and still fit and made sense. I missed that one." (We'll give him 20 lashes with a wet headline.)

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An irate Republican reader had a problem with a letter that ran Aug. 14 under the title "Fixing WARN Act is least we can do." The letter, by Robin Weirauch, talked about the Campbell Soup Co.'s Napoleon, Ohio, plant and went on to criticize U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor for "taking no interest or action to protect the jobs and dignity of the hardworking people" employed there.

The reader (who didn't want his name used) thought it wasn't fair to run that letter without noting that Ms. Weirauch had been Mr. Gillmor's Democratic opponent in 2004 and 2006.

And the reader was absolutely right. This was especially unfortunate because The Blade endorsed her candidacy in both of her losing campaigns. This was not, however, a deliberate omission, but a simple oversight. In the past, Ms. Weirauch's letters have been correctly identified; this one slipped through the cracks. The embarrassed page proofreaders vow to do better.

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Finally, Carol Johnson of Blissfield, Mich., thinks the paper has completely gone to the dogs, at least so far as concerns the misadventures of Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and his Labrador retriever, Scout.

The mayor took his lumps for leaving Scout - twice - inside his city-leased sport utility vehicle while he was keeping appointments. The Blade wrote an editorial reproving him for what was, indeed, cruelty to his animal.

Part of the editorial said that if he had to leave the dog in the car, "at least he could have left the SUV's engine running and the doors locked, of course."

Ms. Johnson responded: "My problem with that 'wonderful' idea is the picture of a 50-60 pound Lab roaming around in the vehicle with the motor running. All he has to do is sit on, bump, or paw the gearshift lever and he will be driving over someone or something. I hope nobody follows [that] suggestion."

Your ombudsman couldn't agree more. He has had large dogs (in his case collies) all his life and knows whoever wrote that particular editorial is not an owner of a big rambunctious dog. But the nice thing about our species is that we cannot only sit up and beg, but live and learn.

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Anyone with a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660, or at my Detroit office, 189 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me at 1-888-746-8610, or email me at OMBLADE@aol.com. I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply.



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