Nothing is more predictable in Jackson than watching for that David Hampton column in The Clarion-Ledger after any major event, endorsement or election. It's the one in which he tells us why everyone but the Ledger is doing something really, really bad.
This time, on Sunday, Hampton told us to "tone down the rhetoric in politics." He wants us to "raise the level of our political dialogue." He bemoans the "nastiest e-mails" he got during election season, in which he read "some of the most outrageous untruths" he can recall. On page 4G, he slams the e-mail gossip chains that we all got and loathed:
"People pass them along with no thought about truth or ethics. Some are outright lies with altered pictures or statements taken out of context. ... Don't blindly pass it along."
Funny, I thought, didn't I just read some of those "outright lies" on page 3G of that section? Sure enough, I flipped back to the "Talkback" section, which Hampton edits, and there was the letter about the Obama endorsement, the one that had just sent chills up my spine. And right thereyou can't make this upon the exact spot behind Hampton's words I just quoted, David Crain of Jackson had written about the president-elect:
"OK let's see: No experience, association with known terrorists at home and abroad, is in favor of killing newborn babies as well as babies still in their mother's womb, will raise taxes, etc. ... He was raised Muslim and no doubt is sympathetic toward them. He has received tens of millions of dollars in donations from outside the United States."
That statement is filled with false statements of the kind that showed up in our e-mail boxes during the campaign. Why is that letter printed in The Clarion-Ledger? Why did Hampton allow it in without comment?
Newspapers are ethically (and legally) responsible for the content of our letters to the editor. We can allow a variety of opinions, such as criticism of a new president, but it is abuse of our First Amendment rights, at best, to allow our publications to be used to spread outright factual fabrications.
These are the kind of journalistic decisions that can spur a fool to commit violence, or get another fool elected to an office he doesn't deserve. Hampton should know better. Perhaps he was out taking drunk pics the night before?
I have endured poor reporting in local papers owned by national companies in middling-sized cities in Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin. I don't like it but I live with it because I like to read the local daily paper to get a snapshot of the community delivered to my home, to feel more in step with the community. The Clarion-Ledger's letters to the editor creates the opposite of this desired result. Reading these kinds of letters makes me feel estranged from the community, out of step and even fearful that my neighbor might have written one of these hateful diatribes. I don't understand who the C-L thinks they are serving and what that service is exactly.
True. Not serving employees, not serving readers, not serving businesses or cities.
I got it. They're serving shareholders. Although not so well these days.
When they came after us and other local publications to try to get us to pay them to continue distributing in local businesses, I knew they had jumped the shark.
And when David Hampton would not allow us, or MIPA, to respond to the former publisher's crazy full-page diatribe (and not-so-veiled accusations of our members) in a letter to the editor, it was very clear that it is no longer a newspaper.
Now they're an "information center" and keep trying desperate stuff, seeming to think that no one has noticed all the anti-community and anti-Jackson crap.
As for this letter-to-the-editor thing, it's just speaks to how the Ledger sets such a low standard for everyone else in the market. I teach my interns here to do real interviews with sources; meantime, award-winning (in the past) reporters there do lazy e-mail interviews.
Then they don't choose letters with solid facts. We manage to find the time to factcheck ours, and to send them back to writers if necessary. The same with our columns. People can take whatever point of view, but the *facts* have to be solid. That's journalism 101. But they refuse to practice it there, apparently thinking that Mississippians are too dumb to notice.
I've got news for them.
I forgot to add that reading the JFP, unlike the C-L, does make feel in step with and a part of the community of Jackson. Thanks. The way that you produce your weekly is a great service. The love that is in your labor shows in the paper.