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Editor's Note: Our ‘bias’ seems flexible

Awhile back, letter-writer Carter Swart took The Triplicate to task for what he saw as its liberal bias.

“Your newspaper consistently publishes anti-Republican (political) cartoons at a rate I’d describe at about 30-1 in favor of the Democrats,” he wrote. “The Triplicate also pushes the hoax of global warming, persistently presents the leftist opinions of liberal newspaper editorials, and offers little comfort to the one-half of your constituency that happen to be Republicans.”

On Wednesday, letter-writer Linda Ehrisman took The Triplicate to task for what she saw as its conservative bias.

“This county is not nearly as right-leaning as the casual reader of our paper would surmise,” she wrote, noting the recent front-page article about Sheriff/Tea Party leader Dean Wilson and my Aug. 20 Editor’s Note column detailing some of the results of a very unscientific Tea Party survey of people who stopped off at its booth during the county fair.

The writers agreed on a key point: The Triplicate needs to consider the views of all of its constituents. The fact that they expressed polar-opposite views of which way their newspaper leans politically is evidence that we’re doing just that.

A newspaper that is doing its job is going to consistently take flak — the important thing is that the flak isn’t always coming from the same direction.

Yes, the demographics show us to be a county split fairly evenly in political party registration that nevertheless leans slightly to the right (favoring McCain over Obama in the Democratic landslide of 2008). So it wouldn’t make much sense to alienate half the populace with political favoritism on either side.

A local office-holder whom I truly respect recently questioned why a Triplicate reporter didn’t attend a Democratic Party Labor Day weekend event to interview state Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Fiona Ma. After all, the local official pointed out, we had published an interview with then-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, a known Republican, when he was in town last year.

Well, yes, and we also covered visits to the area by Democratic Congressman Mike Thompson and Republican Doug LaMalfa as he campaigned for state senator. Favoritism? Oh, and sometimes we didn’t have the resources available to cover visits by Thompson and LaMalfa. Favoritism?

We did publish a front-page article advancing Ma’s planned appearance at the Democratic event. Shortly thereafter, I got a message from a local Republican leader asking that the GOP get the same front-page treatment for an advance of its 9/11 anniversary event. That article went front-page as well, and it would have without the implication that to do otherwise would be unfair.

When you’re in the middle you’re always going to get worked by political candidates and party officials. They’re like coaches who chew on the referee after one call in hopes of having the next one go in their favor.

The current line seems to have us leaning conservative after publishing several missives from readers criticizing a new state law requiring social studies teachers to include the contributions of gay people in history lessons. Some of those readers went beyond their opposition to the new law to also state their opinion that homosexuality is morally wrong, and frankly that does lead to difficult judgment calls on my part. I want the opinion page to be an open forum, but not one that foments intolerance. I do reject some letters and edit others, sometimes to the writers’ chagrin.

Some letter-writers have also implied that The Triplicate must be sipping what the Tea Party is serving because of the recent feature about Sheriff Wilson. Did they actually read the article?

Of course Wilson was given the opportunity to explain why he has taken on a prominent role in the local Tea Party. But he also was asked to address seeming contradictions, such as his opposition to any potential budget cuts to the Sheriff’s Office even if its responsibilities were to shrink. The story also included several other voices praising, criticizing and analyzing Wilson’s dual roles.

It had nothing to do with liberalism or conservatism, but I found Wilson’s most intriguing statement to be that he “could take over the city police operations tomorrow and not have to change anything in my office. I wouldn’t have to add bodies immediately because we could absorb the amount of calls they have without really having much effect.”

Now there are the makings of a potential city-county squabble over law enforcement. If one ensues, and we cover it, you can bet we’ll be accused of favoring both the city and the county.

It comes with the territory.

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