Editor's Note: Hitting the ‘reply’ button

By Richard Wiens, The Triplicate August 24, 2011 06:14 pm

I don’t often respond in print to letters to the editor criticizing some aspect of our news product. The critics deserve their say, of course, and Tuesday’s edition featured missives from two of them. This time I am responding but hey, at least I waited a day.

Roger Gitlin took offense at my writing in a Saturday Editor’s Note column (“Tea Party surveys fairgoers”) that some county fairgoers probably stayed away from the Tea Party booth because they didn’t support that organization’s political philosophy. The implication was that I was singling out the Tea Party, when some fairgoers were no doubt choosing not to visit other booths as well.

Lost in that analysis is the fact that my whole column was singling out the Tea Party, because that was the organization that conducted a public opinion survey at the fair. Mary Wilson was kind enough to loan me the survey results, which I felt provided insight into the attitudes and concerns of local residents.

The disclaimer seemed an obvious one: This was not a scientific poll, and the results probably leaned conservative because the Tea Party booth was more likely to attract people who agree with its general call for shrinking government and lowering taxes. If I’d been writing about the results of a survey conducted at the Democratic Party booth, I’d have included a similar disclaimer.

Frankly, going to the considerable effort to conduct a public opinion survey at the fair is one more sign that the Tea Party — agree with it or not — is probably the most publicly engaged political organization in Del Norte these days.

The second letter, from Sharon Frymer, criticized The Triplicate’s Aug. 17 headline, “The show is over,” and the publishing of a photo of the body of the gray whale being moved to the riverbank of the Klamath.

“What about the incredible journey this whale chose to take in our river did the publishing staff of The Triplicate fail to get?” Frymer asked.

It was an incredible 52 days. For more than half that time, the gray whale and her calf swam together, often circling just beneath the U.S. Highway 101 bridge. The spectacle was viewed from the bridge by thousands of people, most of them probably getting the closest look they’ll ever have of such magnificent marine mammals.

After the calf swam back to sea on July 23, numerous well-intentioned efforts were made to convince the mother to follow suit. Biologists organized a regatta of boats in a one-day campaign that featured a fire hose and various noisemakers. Smaller efforts continued in the subsequent weeks — Yurok drummers, recorded whale sounds and even serenades by a flutist and a ukulele player.

All this played out as spectators crowded the bridge, prompting Caltrans and the Highway Patrol to restrict parking and put up signs warning motorists miles beforehand about the hazard ahead.

Whatever else this was — a spiritually significant event for some, an unforgettable wildlife-viewing opportunity for all — it was a show.

The image of the whale’s body was the final installment of a Triplicate photo report that stretched over the duration of the visitation. It was a sad ending, and a sad picture, for which I make no apology.