When you are publishing a family newspaper, where do you draw the line when it comes to language and good taste?
Reader Christopher Terry was upset by a letter to the editor complaining about the latest outburst from Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher. The man who became briefly famous for his “front lawn debate” with Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign recently said, in reference to some of the tragic school shootings, “Your dead kids do not trump my constitutional rights.”
That prompted this letter from Toledoan Mark DelBrocco of Robinwood Avenue: “To Mr. Wurzelbacher: Your constitutional rights don’t trump my constitutional right to call you a horse’s ass.”
Mr. Terry said that comment “should not have been printed, in my opinion. No one should be allowed to call others names, in this case, a pretty nasty name, using a curse word when addressing an article or person they disagree with. The Blade should have rejected this person’s comment” and not printed it.
What does your ombudsman think?
Everyone has his own personal biases. I am a Baby Boomer, and my own language in private is not always broadcast-ready.
However, I think that a newspaper should have some class and avoid vulgarity when possible. I like the fact that The Blade, unlike most papers, still uses honorifics, such as Mr., Ms., and Dr.
But newspapers also have to reflect, at least to some extent, the culture and taste and jargon of the times. By the standard of how people talk and what you hear in shopping malls and prime time over-the-air TV, “horse’s ass” is extremely mild.
I have no problem with The Blade’s using it here, except that when Mr. Wurzelbacher’s comment is considered, the insult might be found to be unfair to any of the magnificent horses I have known.
However, I tend to also agree with the sentiments expressed in another reader’s letter published on this subject. Gary Schultz of Reinwood Drive wrote, “The Blade has overestimated its readers’ interest in Mr. Wurzelbacher.” Pop culture icon Andy Warhol once said, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”
Based on his record of accomplishment, I think Mr. Wurzelbacher’s time may have expired.
■ Here’s a great revelation: Computer programs often have bugs in them that sometimes surface when you least expect it.
Faithful reader Bob Holup wrote to me to say, “I am a Blade subscriber. Pay my bill on time and try to be community involved. There are times when I take exception to contents of articles and choose to make polite, constructive comments … but my comments are “hidden” from public view … this is very frustrating and something is not working. If all comments [non-offensive] are not posted, then the full range of thoughts and responses leave something to be desired. The city and the readers are deprived.”
The good news is that nobody at The Blade is attempting to censor Mr. Holup — or anyone else who posts legitimate and thoughtful, nonprofane comments. Greg Braknis, The Blade’s web news editor, spent a great deal of time trying to figure it out.
So did Brad Vriezelaar, The Blade’s director of new media. They finally found out what was wrong. The fault was Facebook’s.
He told Mr. Holup, “Thanks so much for your email, as it helped us track down a bug that Facebook is now working to address. This is not fixed yet, but they are aware and have resources on it … I do apologize for the inconvenience this has caused and will continue to push to get this fixed.” He promised to let Mr. Holup know when it is.
If other readers are having this problem, feel free to let me, or Mr. Vriezelaar, know as well.
■ To the anonymous caller who filled up my voice mail last week, complaining that The Blade showed pictures of minorities celebrating Father’s Day: Your ombudsman is very happy that the newspaper disappointed you and hopes it will continue to do so — unless you become more open-minded.
Anyone who has a concern about fairness or accuracy in this newspaper is invited to write me, c/o The Blade; 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, 43660, or at my Detroit office: 555 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 e-mail address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.
Jack Lessenberry is the head of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com