EDITORIAL: Civil discourse

by Oct 15, 2018OPINIONS





Not since the American Civil War have I read about so much hatred and disunity among the citizenry of the United States. The ugliness ranges from rhetoric to aggression to violence.

I am not sure when or how it happened, but we can no longer hold differing opinions on certain topics without forming battle lines. A dangerous mindset is developing that if people cannot conform to a certain way of thinking, then they must be eliminated, some say from the conversation, others say from the planet. What starts as a difference in philosophy escalates into physical violence. Death threats come to a person because they did, or didn’t, support a position or candidate. Government public meetings are reduced to chaotic messes with people screaming and being carried out of rooms by police. Peaceful protests are turned into arenas of death by fanatical individuals who decide that a cause is so much more valuable than human life that they jump in their vehicle and attempt to run over the opposition. And, people are trying to make a statement about their beliefs by shooting into peaceful crowds from high perches in hotel rooms or busting into to schools and churches. The tools of free speech have been perverted to mean sticks and stones, knives, bullets, and gas-powered vehicles.

No, violent civil disobedience is not new to America. After all, this country’s efforts toward independence began with an act of civil violence. As mentioned above, war upon war has been fought to push an agenda. But attacks seem to be progressively becoming more personal.

As a newspaper editor, I (along with the editorial board) concern myself with balancing the need, the right, of our people to express themselves through their opinions and comments to the news of the day and protecting the public from inappropriate expressions of hate. You would not think that in a community as progressive as the Qualla Boundary is, that you would find need of regulation of hate speech. And, you would be wrong.

We, as reporters, work very hard to write with a non-partisan, unbiased tone to our articles. It is impossible to report news in a detached fashion. After all, it would not be a story and the journalist would not have selected it to bring to you if it did not have more than average interest to him or her, and therefore to you. Our reporters live in this community and have a vested interested in every local news story. They challenge themselves to make sure that all sides of a story are captured or as many as time and access will allow. A news article should not be written with the intent to sway you to a side or position. That is the job of public relations people. There are news organizations who are not as ethical in their treatment of news. Some regularly allow their reporters to inject their opinions in news stories. In those cases, the publisher leaves the readers to figure out what the actual story is versus commentary by the writer.

As you know, the One Feather journalists do provide their opinions on the issue of the day in the newspaper. They do not do it in their articles. Articles are there to document history in the making. Our reporters provide their viewpoint in a commentary. It is clearly labeled as such so that readers immediately know that these are opinions, just like their own. Our staff commentaries and your letters and commentaries to the editor are a critical function of the newspaper. We all need to have an outlet to voice our opinions to the community. We are proud of the progress we have made in the direction of providing that outlet to the Qualla Boundary and the surrounding region.

In providing that outlet, we play the role of gatekeeper. It is a difficult and thankless job because it requires us to weigh the comments of others to determine if those are appropriate and whether these comments will harm the community. The balance runs on a fine line. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is written on four simple premises; seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent. We try to model that code in all of our writings from news articles to commentaries. We use it as a guide for our acceptance of submitted material. And we monitor and edit the website and social media newsfeeds for the newspaper with those principals in mind.

Hate speech, vulgarity, and accusations with no basis, in fact, all violate our oath (yes, we are bound by our Cherokee Code to adhere to the SPJ Code of Ethics) to minimize harm. As an editor and professional journalist, I want to make sure, to the best of my ability, that I provide, you with the opportunity to voice your opinion on any subject that you feel it is vital for the community to know. It is a crucial part of my job to keep the lines of communication open between the community, the tribal government, the outside the Boundary governments and communities.

If you have a position or statement, you wish to make to the community, the very worst thing you can do as you communicate it is to use vulgarity, use hate-filled words, or use misleading stories. It completely distracts the readers from the statement on a position that you may be trying to make. Where it is offered to us, we apply the strictest filters possible regarding foul language. If you must pepper your comments with vulgar language to supposedly get your point across, then your message is likely too weak to stand any measure of scrutiny.  I speak from personal experience. The times that I have used vulgar language were the times that the foundations of my statement were shaky.

Hateful words are idle words that typically have no substantive value to a position. Hate is, for the most part, a wasteful and wasted emotion. The substance usually comes out after the statement of hatred. “I hate you because…” What follows “because” is more than likely what needs to be heard. “I hate you because you live a lifestyle I don’t agree with” or “…the decision you made negatively impacted my life in this way…” By simply dropping the hate, you make statements; you provide the reader an opportunity to examine your position based on the substance of your argument. They may not be convinced or agree, but you have communicated your stance and can see feedback that may help all sides at least understand each other better.

We are a small community with a passionate, vocal membership. We just wrapped up our fall community event that we deemed “Ga Du Gi-The Heartbeat of our Tribe.” For many, Ga Du Gi speaks of a mindset of peaceful, respectful community. As we, you and I, address issues important to our community via civil discourse, let’s remember who we are and what we represent – an ancestry steeped in a tradition of unity, regardless of our differences.