Wednesday, May 23, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Jack Lessenberry

Honesty, candor in editorial about Gillmor rile readers

Was this newspaper too cold, unfeeling, and political after U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor (R., Tiffin) was found dead Sept. 5 after a sudden, tragic fall down the stairs of his suburban Washington townhouse?

Some readers thought so, judging from more than a dozen calls and e-mails I received. "In your zeal to try [to] elect a Democrat you couldn't even respect the memory of this man who so many of us loved," one angry caller said. "You have a heart of stone," said another.

Most of the readers who felt this way didn't have a problem with the extensive coverage of the congressman's death and funeral. What bothered them more was an editorial that appeared the following Sunday, which was labeled "A Chance For Change."

The editorial urged the voters in the district to send a message to Washington by electing a successor who would move away from supporting "the status quo in Iraq."

"What we would like to see as the Fifth District's special election process unfolds is a vigorous debate over the nation's future, one with national implications," it concluded.

That seemed reasonable enough. But from the tone of some of my more violent callers, I had to wonder if they had read the same editorial I had. "You even smear the dead," one man said.

What really seems to be going on here is, oddly enough, a reaction to The Blade's honesty and candor. In many cases, politicians who die in office are lionized as if they were the next Abraham Lincoln, always brilliant, always incorruptible. The Blade's policy, however, is not to sugarcoat reality.

The newspaper's editorial did say that Mr. Gillmor was a "genuine, down-to-earth guy." It praised him for lacking "the razors on the ends of his fingers" that more cutthroat politicians display.

But it did not make the late congressman out to be a brilliant statesman, for one simple reason: He wasn't. He was a "go along and get along" member, who once was chosen by Roll Call as one of Congress' 10 most obscure members, a man whose "most distinguished characteristic in the nation's capital was that he was mostly undistinguished."

Paul Gillmor also had faced very real questions over whether his main residency was in the district he represented, since his home was just outside Columbus, a long way from the 5th District's borders.

To read those things may have stung his friends a bit, but they were also true. Sometimes it is hard to be honest. I regularly hear from people who are offended because our obituaries mention the bad things people did in their lifetimes as well as the good. That isn't always pleasant, but it is necessary.

However, the editorial, despite a growing popular mythology, did not call for the election of a Democrat. What it said was since there was "no end in sight to this trillion-dollar conflict," meaning Iraq, it would be good to select "a Republican with more dovish views or even a Democrat."

As a model for what a congressman from Ohio's 5th District should be like, The Blade mentioned not a Democrat but former U.S. Rep. Delbert Latta, a conservative Republican who held the seat from 1959 to 1989.

That's not to say our editorial couldn't have been better. It is always easy to be a quarterback after the big game is over - but it might have been more soothing to have begun the editorial with a couple sentences about Mr. Gillmor's warm and affable personality. The editorial writers might have even wryly tipped their hat to the voters, who have twice ignored The Blade's suggestion that they replace Mr. Gillmor with Democrat Robin Weirauch.

Still, I found nothing unethical in what the newspaper said - and I thought The Blade was even-handed and balanced and complete in its news coverage of the congressman's tragic death.

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. You may also call me at 1-888-746-8610 or email me at 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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