• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

Here’s Johnny!

A time to heal

Well, I failed last week. Sorry.

Dear Readers may recall that I attempted to explain why, in the light of the Annapolis newspaper shooting, the folks in my profession were not the “enemy of the American people.” It was a fairly decent column, I thought, at least by my standards.

Then, two days after it was published and nine days after the Annapolis murders, a prominent American politician spoke of members of “the crooked press” who are “so dishonest” because they are “bad people” who produce “fake news.”

But I digress. Let’s talk about something real back home.

Once upon a time, a dear friend would, mischievously but with otherwise good intent – I think – stop me in my tracks by saying, “You’ve got your serious face on.”

For the second consecutive week, that’s what I’m wearing as I attempt to heal the breach caused by the June 26 special election and what came before and after, or at least not make things worse.

In mid-April, after I consulted with Sun publisher Whit Chandler, reporter Bob Vlach and others, we published the petition calling for the referendum on the school tax hike – just as they appeared on the sheets. We did so knowing that some folks wouldn’t be happy with the move, but strongly believing that it was the right thing to do. Sure, anyone with a lot of dimes could (and some did) get the same list at the county clerk’s office with nothing more than an Open Records request and 520 dimes. However, I thought our community and newspaper would benefit from making those 1,454 signatures available to all, straight-up, without being accompanied by editorial comments from advocates of either side.

We put it on our website, available to non-subscribers, too, on Friday, April 13. Within hours, I wondered if the old superstition about that day and date might be coming home to roost.

That night, after a long day at work, I sat at home enjoying a beverage and watched as parts of Woodford County went up in virtual flames on a community web page. Motives were questioned, personal attacks were made, reminders of past misdeeds were posted and one allegation was issued that, sad to say, makes me snicker to this day.

“What have we wrought?” I thought to myself, using the pronoun “we” to spread the possible blame, as it was pretty much my bright idea to publish the petition.

Over the next few weeks, I spoke with several people who weren’t happy with the petition publication. To their credit, while the conversations ended with neither party having changed their minds, no one was uncivil about it, and as far as I can tell, we didn’t lose any subscribers over the decision.

(At least one other Kentucky newspaper did lose subscribers in a similar situation, but the publisher kept on publishing, and is being honored by the Kentucky Press Association for her work.)

Unfortunately, the patience of some Sun readers with their community newspaper did not always extend to other members of their community. As the campaign heated up, once again, motives were questioned and aspersions cast. After the vote, harsh words were traded and “alternative facts” were reissued.

It was, and is, a shame.

(By the way, I don’t disagree with Mr. Shulman’s letter to the editor this week – I do believe a vigorous debate is good. However, I believe the vigorous debate over the school tax included too many personal attacks.)

I’ve got an idea, one that in these troubled times in America, may be harder than ever to execute: Instead of attacking others during differences of opinion, we should present our case as best we can, then listen carefully to the other side. Let’s give our opponents, even if we’re certain they’re wrong, the benefit of the doubt and assume, at the very least, that they believe what they’re saying. If we can listen with compassion without tossing bombs and end the discussion by agreeing to disagree without being disagreeable, we’ll all be a lot better off.

“You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” as a better-known John once wrote.

Thank you for your patience. I will now take off my serious face.

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