The wacky, paranoid world we live in |

The wacky, paranoid world we live in

We had a chuckle in The Union’s newsroom last week over the reader who looked at the photos chosen to illustrate last week’s presidential and saw an anti-Democrat conspiracy.

President George Bush was gesturing with one hand, which according to the letter-writer signaled calmness and determination, while Senator John Kerry had palms up – obviously a journalistic prank, said the reader, to make him look like a flip-flopper.

Our chuckle was for several reasons.

One, even if we wanted to slant news or photos to favor one side or the other (which we don’t – it’s against our journalistic principles), the image of our page layout editors carefully examining each photo for just the perfect damning image is plain silly. Just getting the paper closed on deadline every night is enough work in itself, without adding the burden of doing public relations work for the president.

This idea is just as ridiculous as the rash of complaints we got last year when we ran a photo of President Bush frowning. We had insulted the leader of our country, callers said. Please – we are just looking for interesting, expressive pictures.

Two, what happened to the charge that journalists are all lefties? What are liberal dupes doing making the president look good? Kind of throws that “liberal press” argument into a cocked hat, doesn’t it?

Truth is, there are people of many political stripes at The Union who are not afraid to speak up if they ever saw such manipulation taking place.

Take a look at the two photos here. Are we saying that President Bush is a warm, smiling, down-to-earth guy? Or, as some said after last week’s debate, is he doing an imitation of Alfred E. Newman?

And Kerry – two-handed again, but this time with fists instead of open palms. Are we saying he’s the determined one? Or maybe, as the Bushies said about John McCain, is he a belligerent man just this side of a psycho? He does look a little French in this shot. . . .

Or maybe it’s just that folks read their own bias into photos or stories, but cannot recognize it.

We had a reader accuse us recently of publishing more stories and larger photos of Bush than of Kerry. An analysis of The Union over a week’s time revealed the same number of stories and photos for each candidate. With the ebb and flow of news, the coverage was a bit different each day, but in the long run it balances out.

Three, conspiracy theories abound in Nevada County pretty much year around, but election time ramps them up to the Nth degree. If a public figure is the subject of a news story, it immediately triggers speculation about the real reason the story was written. What is the newspaper’s behind-the-scenes agenda? Who is really pulling the strings? There must be some reason The Union is rocking the boat, sticking its nose in where it doesn’t belong. (This is a game other media in town like to play.)

We also chuckle in resignation, because there is little that can change these perceptions. There will be sneers at my reference to journalistic principles, no matter how many repetitions.

Some people will never believe that the editorials on the Ideas & Opinions page are rigidly separated from the news columns. (They are.) Some will always be convinced that our opinionated publisher and columnist, Jeff Ackerman, dictates how The Union covers the news. (He doesn’t.) Many will forever take it as a given that advertisers are given preferential treatment in stories. (They aren’t.)

But mostly we laugh because it’s a wacky, paranoid world, and we have a front seat at the sideshow every day.

It’s enough for our news staff to know that each day we come to work and do our best to present the events in Nevada County in as fair and as balanced a way as possible. That we continue to provide information that is most relevant for our readers, to be a watchdog on government without fear or favor, and to express our core beliefs editorially in a strong voice.


Speaking of principles, a judge this week ordered New York Times reporter Judith Miller jailed until she testifies about her Bush administration source who leaked the identity of an undercover CIA officer. Although she remains free pending an appeal, she could be in a cell for up to 18 months.

What? A supposedly liberal reporter for the supposedly liberal New York Times willing to go to jail on principle to protect a source in a Republican administration? Has hell frozen over?


Richard Somerville is the editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturdays.

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