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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 3/31/2013

Blade does not practice ‘selective concealment’

BY JACK LESSENBERRY
BLADE OMBUDSMAN

Reader Nate Holt of Toledo thinks The Blade is indulging in a form of political bias he calls “selective concealment.”

“I am a very long-time subscriber and have come to accept the notion that a newspaper is totally free to engage in some level of bias in its opinion pages. But The Blade crossed the line from bias to selective concealment in its pair of editorials published March 13.”

What he is talking about is party affiliation. What he found objectionable was that an editorial denouncing Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit’s felonious former mayor, failed to mention that he is a Democrat. However, an editorial critical of Ohio Gov. John Kasich mentioned that he was a Republican in the first sentence.

Is this “selective concealment?”

Your ombudsman doesn’t think so. Frankly, as I have mentioned in the past, there have been cases where stories have wrongly failed to identify the party affiliation of politicians in trouble.

But in this case, while Kwame Kilpatrick served in the Michigan Legislature as a Democrat in the 1990s, mayoral elections in Detroit are nonpartisan. Virtually everyone in Detroit is a Democrat.

Republican candidates for statewide office usually get less than 10 percent of the vote in Detroit. The candidates Kilpatrick defeated when he was elected mayor were all Democrats as well.

Anyone politically savvy knows that a black mayor of a large city is almost certainly a Democrat. Kilpatrick is certainly a criminal who has been convicted of many state and federal felonies. But there is no evidence that his party affiliation had anything to do with his behavior. It would not have been wrong to mention that he once was a promising young Democratic politician.

However, in this context, it wasn’t necessary. Governor Kasich, on the other hand, is an active partisan politician presumably getting ready for another partisan election next year. Mentioning his affiliation at the outset of any politically oriented piece is the right thing to do.

Ronald Talloak Everett wrote a long letter to the editor some weeks ago about the federal law establishing the Fallen Timbers Battlefield and Fort Miamis National Historic Site.

His original letter made several points about the battle, including that it was not fought on the site itself. The Blade condensed his letter for clarity, but inadvertently left out his statement that the 1794 battle was not fought at that location.

Mr. Everett was outraged and fears readers will believe that he is saying the battle was fought on the historic site. While I see his point, the letter as published doesn’t say where it was fought.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t think it was a simple error: “[The editor] just outright disagreed with what I wrote, so he rewrote my letter to please himself.”

Your ombudsman finds no evidence this is so or that anyone on The Blade’s editorial board has any hidden agenda involving the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Sometimes busy people make mistakes. That’s not to excuse them, but those seeking to have letters published can lessen the chance of misinterpretation by keeping sentences concise and to the point.

Suzanne McKinney wrote to ask, “Can’t The Blade put euthanized instead of ‘dogs killed’ when they put them in the paper?

The same thought occurred to me when this newspaper started publishing statistics from the Lucas County Dog Warden’s office. But then I remembered that, as George Orwell pointed out years ago, dictators have a bad custom of trying to mask the impact of harsh things by using softer words.

“Liquidated” or “final solution,” for example, for wiping out a population. Death is a harsh, if sometimes necessary reality, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with forcing us to confront it.

However, in the interest of fairness, the paper should recognize that ending your dog’s life is sometimes the humane and responsible thing to do, as when a pet is old and has terminal cancer. I would like to see the owners in such cases treated differently by the daily log.

Over the past few months, several readers have complained about the format changes of the Peach Section. One of then, Albert Misseldine of Adrian, Mich, wrote: “Most people who read a newspaper regularly get into a habit of reading it in the same way and find comfort in the routine. Could you please explain to me why these changes are necessary?” Especially, he said, when the format is changed on Mondays and Tuesdays?

Luann Sharp, The Blade’s assistant managing editor, said “The Blade’s presses print using a process referred to as flexo. This type of press is clean, but it has some limitations when it comes to printing certain pages in color.”

She added, “Late last year, a decision was made to add more suburban news to the second news section — OurTowns. We wanted to be able to run color photos on these two pages.”

With the way the presses work, and because The Blade didn’t want to drop the traditional peach color used on the Peach Plus page, that page had to be moved on Mondays on Tuesdays.

“I know this is an inconvenience and requires some adjustments for readers, but our options were limited,” she said.

After I explained this in a letter to Mr. Misseldine, he wrote back that he was happy with the explanation, thanked me, and added, “Please convey my thanks to Ms. Sharp for her cogent explanation.”

Anyone who as a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade; 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, 43660, or at my Detroit office: 563 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.

Reminder, however: If you don’t leave me an email address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.

Jack Lessenberry is a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.



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