We the people, when we write letters to the editor, we’re part of the fabric of the free press. But we must hold ourselves to the same standards that good journalists do, especially being honest and moral. We must fact check and find verification in more than one place. It is how we build trust, and it is how we convince. I have written many letters to the editor and am confident I’ve held myself to such standards…in all of them but one: a letter I wrote in January 2015.
In it, my argument was to dissuade people from voting for the consolidation of Ridgeway, Shelby, and Medina. It was a good letter in some ways—(I thought); there were some compelling arguments about why it was crucial to keep the village and towns separate. Rather, I said, we should solve things via shared services.
But my letter began with an unfair attack on a government official: Andrew Meier, then Mayor of Medina.
I quoted him first. He had said that people kept putting up walls instead of really trying to figure things out. And then…I used his own words against him. I accused him of being the one to build that wall. I went further: I insinuated that he himself was actively working against the idea of shared services. I came up with a snarky metaphor comparing him to a person who shows up at the family homestead to help the family fix it up…but drives up in a bulldozer, just in case.
I pretty much argued that he was like a child, ready to knock over a tower and throw some blocks.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t know if any of this was true. I didn’t fact check. I didn’t find multiple sources. I relied on rumor and innuendo and gossip…and most of all, I relied instead on a hunch (probably borne of my own passionate, can’t-hear-you/Not-listening self) that I was right and he was wrong.
Who was the little kid, again? Who was the one throwing blocks?
Andrew used to be my friend. We’ve always been opposites…he’s the “I’m a Constitutionalist; Less Government is Better,” Conservative. I’m a “History proves that Government’s purpose is to protect the nonprofit helper-sector from the Money –at-All-Cost –Industrialists, and who Cares Who Might Suffer Along the Way?” liberal. And we used to have spirited and cheerful debates. And…together, we often found middle ground.
As for the consolidation debate (for the record, I’m still against it)—he always, always said when he saw me, “Let’s sit down and talk.” And that’s something.
His approach to government has always been like that. Don’t agree? Let’s talk. And he has always served the public, from his founding of the Orleans Renaissance Group with Skip Draper, to his revitalization of downtown Medina, to his support of arts and music, and yes, to his role in thanklessly being the guy in front—the mayor—who maybe made mistakes, but who always had Medina’s best interest at heart.
For me to shame him so publicly in the way I did? It was unconscionable. Andrew? I am deeply, deeply sorry for that letter.
And worse, I tarred and feathered him with words he hadn’t earned. What if people believed my attack as truths? Here is a man who has dedicated himself to the betterment of his family, his church, and his village…and I tore him down like he wasn’t the man who has known my family and my husband’s our whole life, who has—even now—been respectful and decent, when he sees me in town.
There is no question that discourse of late—here, everywhere—has broken down, some of it awful and name calling and unfair. But I can only begin to heal that rift if I start by looking in the mirror.
Why the public apology? The attack was public. A private apology note…well, it doesn’t quite fit the crime. Andrew, I sincerely apologize, and I hope you can someday forgive me, and we can be friends again.
Lines drawn too deeply in the sand mean there’s nothing but a chasm between us, no bridge in sight.
Karen L Jones