Groups and websites like NewsReal and the Media Research Center do great work holding the big dogs of the mainstream media—the New York Times, CNN, the networks, NPR, etc.—accountable for lies and sleaze, but there is another manifestation of media bias that gets far too little attention: local media. My mother, Peg Freiburger, recently wrote an editorial to our local paper, the Fond du Lac Reporter, about legislation giving Planned Parenthood greater influence in Wisconsin public schools. The letter’s path to publication raises serious questions about the objectivity of America’s most influential newspapers.
It responds to a February 12 news report, yet wasn’t published until April 2. That’s because Mom originally submitted it on Feb. 14 (the original version of the letter appears below the fold). She waited until March 1 for it to be published or for reaction from the Reporter, which she never received, then emailed an inquiry about the letter’s status to Managing Editor Michael Mentzer. No response. She waited some more, then sent a second email to Mentzer on March 10.
Mentzer finally responded a couple days later via phone. Incredibly, he claimed the editorial staff felt “uncomfortable” printing the allegations in her latest editorial, that she needed to provide more evidence, and that the line, “It is pathetic that in Fond du Lac we have a county health officer and a county board…” cut too close to slander and libel.
At Mentzer’s request, Mom resubmitted the letter on March 16, this time with a link for her every claim. She did not hear back for the next several days, and resubmitted it on March 22. On March 23, Mentzer responded, stating he hoped to run it in the next several days, though election letters had priority. On April 2, it finally appeared—under the title, “Planned Parenthood makes money on birth control,” a name that conveniently downplays the letter’s main objections to Planned Parenthood, and the organization’s connection to Wisconsin public schools.
This is perhaps unsurprising, given that Mentzer has in the past advocated greater government power to punish those who “distort information” in public. But since when do local newspapers in general, and the Fond du Lac Reporter in particular, vet or take responsibility for the content of independent opinions?
Answer: they don’t. Personal attacks on private citizens, slanderous mischaracterizations of opponents’ beliefs and actions, and factual claims that range from demonstrably false to at least debatable have always run rampant in the Reporter. This is to be expected—the very point of an opinion page is to represent all the points of view in a community, to let the readers duke it out amongst themselves.
Click here for many examples of what the Reporter has traditionally published; here are some of the most blatant rhetoric that goes far beyond the content of Mom’s letter, which the powers that be initially thought too objectionable to print:
Rea Dunca, 6/14/06—“How are these people [opponents of same-sex marriage] different then from Muslims who blow up hundreds of people in the name of Allah?”
Leah Woodruff, 7/7/06—“Just when it seems that Fond du Lac is accepting its growing diversity, people start writing racist letters directed toward hard-working, law-abiding citizens.” [In response to a 7/5/06 letter by Elizabeth Van Bommel, which argued not for racism, but against illegal immigration.]
Brent Schmitz, 8/8/06—“Why then, does Mr. Fountain use the quote to try to force his religion on suffering and dying Americans who need the cures this research can provide?” [In response to Steve Fountain’s 8/4/06 letter, which argued against embryonic stem cell research using this quote, and making no reference to religion.]
Julie Labomascus, 9/10/06—“I wish to thank the two ladies who wrote the letters about 1950s morals and the male/female union. Both of you probably intended these letters to be serious, but they were so full of inaccuracies that they were the funniest things I’ve read in a few weeks. Thank you again for the laughs.” [This is the letter in its entirety. The author makes no effort to demonstrate what inaccuracies she’s referring to.]
Peter Cloyes, 11/28/06—“I have nothing but contempt for the parents who are trying to have the book [I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou] removed from the [Fond du Lac High School] curriculum. They are clearly moronic bigots.” [The parents objected to the book’s explicit rape scene, not its racial aspects.]
Call the opinions of local officials “pathetic,” and the editor gets cold feet. But calling your fellow citizens bigots? Accusing them of factual inaccuracies you don’t even list? Comparing them to terrorists? No problemo!
Mentzer’s “concerns” about this letter’s conduct seem like cheap excuses not to publish a strong conservative opinion about a serious local controversy, not a real, consistently-applied quality control policy. Does he really mean to suggest that the Reporter fact-checks every single opinion piece it prints? If this was the norm, very little would ever be published on newspaper opinion pages across the country!
It’s safe to say that many people who don’t read the New York Times, USA Today, or the Washington Post do read their local papers. And who keeps an eye on them? How often does bull like this go on nationwide? If Mom hadn’t pestered Mentzer with follow-up emails, would her letter ever have seen the light of day? How many conservative views are snuffed out because their authors are less persistent, or because newspaper editors are more bold in their censorship?
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Likewise, the apathy of the people is the Left’s best friend. Media bias, educational indoctrination, corruption in local government, or leaders who disregard the interests and values of their community—it all happens and continues because inattentive, unconcerned populaces let the powerful get away with it. And if all politics is local, then we can’t expect real, lasting change at the national level if we don’t open our eyes and demand standards in our own communities.