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JOHN BRUMMETT: Dear reader ...

by John Brummett | July 23, 2020 at 2:48 a.m.

Today I make the rare choice to respond to a letter to the editor.

I like to do that once every several years, if only to attempt what an editor told me once a columnist should seek from time to time, which is to surprise the reader (or at least one letter-writer).

In this case, a brief recent Voices submission--a mere five lines plugged into a hole at the bottom of the page--invites a reply that facilitates worthy dialogue on recent blundering by The New York Times.

This letter stated, "I wonder if Mr. Brummett's opinion of his beloved New York Times has been altered at all by the resignation of Bari Weiss. I sense it has only deepened his admiration."

Uninformed wondering and one's mere "sense" ... alas, those provide neither a sound nor fair manner in which to direct criticism. And, in this case, there was no need for the writer to wonder or rely on imagining.

My actually lessened regard for the modern Times was made evident in a column I wrote that appeared in this paper two days before Weiss penned her letter resigning as a columnist because of the oppressive intolerance of the new left that has taken hold of the paper and its newsroom.

In regard to The Times showing the door to its editorial page editor because he had permitted U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton to appear on the op-ed page with a ridiculous and irresponsible guest column about using the military for domestic police work, I wrote on Sunday, July 12: "Ousting the editor because of angry reaction, including from newsroom staff members--that's the antithesis of the principle of an op-ed page. It's like calling this page 'Acceptable Voices.' ... To fire an editor for letting a U.S. senator have his offensive say ... alas, I'm reminded of the fellow who told me Donald Trump's worst damage was that he had driven crazy the once-great New York Times."

It might be concluded from a fair consideration of that text that my appreciation for The Times has not been deepened.

I appreciate that the letter-writer reads at least some of my columns. I understand that sometimes a reader might miss a column or two.

I also understand that the letter-writer probably was in church and didn't catch my guest stint this very recent Sunday morning on conservative Bill Vickery's show on radio station 103.7 in Little Rock.

I enjoy appearing occasionally on the program, and appreciate being invited, because I have come to support disagreeable dialogue more than the modern New York Times supports it.

Fortunately, the hour-long radio discussion remains available on what they call the cloud. I went back and endured listening to myself long enough to hear praise for an editorial in this paper saying The Times lets us down with new intolerance.

That editorial in this newspaper lamented The Times' failing at a very time when local press institutions are in economic decline and the remaining few major national papers become more important than ever.

I said in that conversation with Vickery that I was "outraged" that The Times had "marginalized" itself. I despaired over what may be a generational shift to digitally proficient smart young people who have less regard than their journalistic ancestors for even attempting to maintain day-to-day newsroom objectivity.

I also said I supported "putting crazy on the op-ed page," because I'd fashioned a 34-year career from being allowed to put crazy on the op-ed page.

And I support, I guess, even this letter to the editor based though it be on idle speculation and assumption drawn from an absence of accurate information and context.

I've written plenty of legitimately offensive things. I've written plenty of mistaken judgments. I would encourage critics to emphasize those.

What is important is that The New York Times needs to remain a vital source of global information, but that lately, and tragically, it has severely damaged the vital principle of objectivity and let us all down.

That legendary paper's recent behavior has fueled the destructive modern cultural dynamic in which every vigorously reported fact can be dismissed as bias by a partisan jerk of the knee.

That takes us perilously further from any generally accepted truth, which leaves us perilously further from the functioning community of reason and hope that our nation recently was.

I hope the letter-writer doesn't mind that I used the opportunity of his gratuitousness to make that point.

I welcome his and others' future swipes, confident they won't elicit any response or offer this kind of opportunity for making--or I should say re-making--an important point.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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