We will share ‘letters home’ in The Union | TheUnion.com

We will share ‘letters home’ in The Union

Richard Somerville, Editor
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

As we sat in The Union’s newsroom this week, brainstorming our strategy for coverage if – or when – the United States attacks Iraq, we tried to think of ideas that would be unique to Nevada County. Our circulation director, Craig Underwood, recalled reading a book about letters home from Civil War soldiers and thought excerpts from letters by local servicemen and women could be something our readers would welcome.

We thought it was a wonderful idea and hope you do, too. If you have a loved one – a spouse, a son or daughter, a dad, a friend – who is deployed for potential action in the Middle East, and if you would like to share a part of their letters home with your friends and neighbors here in Nevada County, please let me know.

Maybe this won’t spur a response, but if it does, we’ll promise to run them as long as the threat of war with Iraq – or war itself – exists.

Send your letters to Richard Somerville, Letters Home, The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945, or e-mail letters@theunion.com

The tension of pending war is palpable. Our letters to the editor are a good indicator of how important various issues are to our readers, and letters about Iraq are on the rise. And, as at various other times in America’s history, people who have been undecided about President Bush’s course of action are starting to choose sides.

A lot of readers thought we were doing that in the choice of our photo of President Bush that accompanied a Page One story about his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night. To say some (including our publisher) were unhappy is an understatement. “Insulting,” “ugly,” “rude” and “disgraceful” were some of the comments.

The photo showed the president making an exaggerated frown, pausing after making one of his strongest points of the night: that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had shown “utter contempt” for the United Nations.

Ridiculing the president was the farthest thing from The Union’s mind. At the time we designed the page, the photo – shot directly from the television screen – was the only one of him available from the Associated Press. There was discussion about whether supporters of Bush would be offended. It was observed that the president is an animated speaker and often uses facial expressions to emphasize points. The consensus was that if the photo’s caption explained what he was reacting to, readers would not be offended.

Obviously, we were wrong. One reader said even the headline (Bush: Saddam ‘deceiving’) was an affront. In hindsight, and in the current tense climate, it would have been better to hold the page back and hope for a more conventional photo. A check of other papers showed that the Sacramento Bee also ran an AP shot with a presidential facial expression, albeit not as exaggerated as the one in The Union. The edition of the San Francisco Chronicle that we get here went to press too early to include any State of the Union photo. The shot in the New York Times showed no presidential emotion – obviously, the safer decision to make.

Some readers have asked what the follow-up was to my column of a few weeks ago about government secrecy in California. I noted that more and more state and local agencies were balking at opening ostensibly “public” records. In a statewide test last year, persons making legitimate requests from various agencies were rejected or ignored 77 percent of the time.

Only a handful of readers weighed in with their opinion. While all said they wanted open government, some of them seemed to favor open records on stuff they wanted to know, but seemed to have little interest in things they cared little about – such as the name of a victim knifed in a restaurant in the heart of Grass Valley.

It doesn’t really work that way. Either you have freedom of information or you don’t. And increasingly, we don’t have it. One reader commented: “All of us should care, but few of us really do. Most are content to sit on their porches and watch the world go by!”

Last fall, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed, for the third time, legislation that would have given the attorney general the power to review public records disputes. I’ll let you know if he gets a fourth chance to uphold open government, for those who are interested.

Richard Somerville is editor of The Union. His column appears every Saturday.

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