A reader called this past week to take me to the woodshed.
Having been there many times, I knew what was coming.
"I just called in to stop our subscription to the Globe," this person began.
What followed may offer some insight into our thought processes and may help readers understand why we — the editorial board — do what we do when it comes to these pages.
More on that in a second; first, the conversation.
This person was angry about the "Doonesbury" cartoon in Sunday's paper, with President Donald Trump the target of Garry Trudeau. Nothing new there. We've been running "Doonesbury" for years, and what it was about this cartoon that was too much, I don't know. A final straw, perhaps.
"Everyone is tired of anti-Trump cartoons. You are anti-Trump; you are just nothing but for Democrats."
"You are not fair."
I interrupted the conversation to ask at that point if we had ever met, ever had a telephone conversation or even so much as retweeted one another. We hadn't. Without saying as much, I was trying to make a point: Let's not draw sweeping conclusions about people we haven't met.
I then pointed out that there were actually nine elements on those two pages — three editorial cartoons, four columns, letters and our institutional or Globe editorial. As I dissected it, I realized three of those elements — one cartoon and two columns — were by conservatives, one cartoon (Doonesbury) was liberal, three were neutral or nonpartisan, and of course, the letters are what they are.
As for the editorial itself, we were critical of Gov. Mike Parson and Republican lawmakers for a measure that we feared might open the door to the Missouri attorney general interfering in local prosecutions. But we came at it from the right — calling it "antithetical to local control, a principle Republican lawmakers should stand firmly behind." We've objected many times when Jefferson City attempts to usurp local control. It was a conservative position.
In short, this caller wanted to get rid of the lone voice on those pages that was liberal.
More than 25 years ago, I was the associate editorial page editor at the Globe, and I learned right away that readers were generally OK as long as their view was represented in the paper. For the most part, conservatives wanted a conservative voice but didn't begrudge liberals equal space, and liberals wanted a liberal on the page but didn't begrudge conservatives their room. So we carried a spectrum — ranging from Ellen Goodman to William Rusher at that time, ranging from Robert Reich to Patrick Buchanan today.
Yet I hear from many people today — and from both sides — who tell me the other side's view isn't legitimate and doesn't belong in the paper, regardless of what or how much we print that's from their side of the political divide. It's a sea change — and worrisome.
All of this is my roundabout way of making my point: While the publisher, editorial board members and myself may have disagreements on particular issues, we are in lockstep in our belief that it is our responsibility to run a variety of responsible voices across the width and breadth of the political spectrum. You will find things on the pages you agree with; you will find things that will infuriate you. What you won't find is a closed door.
Think of it as trying to put into practice John Milton's nearly 400-year-old "Areopagitica": "Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?"
Would it surprise you to learn that most months I keep a count of the liberal and conservative columnists on the page and that most months we have a near perfect balance? We don't hit it every time — Sunday being an example, and I didn't realize how much I missed the mark until I reviewed it — but by the end of the month we've usually leveled off. We're making changes to try to get to that balance with editorial cartoons too.
So how did we do in August? You should know that most opinions in August were written by — drum roll, please — you.
We had 18 locally written guest or submitted columns and 49 letters. That would fill more than half the editorial pages each month. In other words, more than half the opinion content in August was contributed by people in our area. A total of 112 opinions were printed during August in letters and all columns, and 67 of those — 60% — were local or submitted pieces such as guest columns or letters to the editor. I urge you to keep writing.
As far as syndicated columns and professional pundits, we actually ended up with 15 liberal and 18 conservative pieces — but wait — what to make of George Will? He's a longtime conservative but no fan of the president, and some of our pro-Trump readers tell me they do not consider him conservative any more. He appeared six times last month, four of those criticizing Trump or Republicans for, as he called it, "apostacies from professed principles," once criticizing the left and once offering a historic perspective on an event that was politically neutral. That would make it 19-19.
Anyway, there you have it — the bottom line — and an invitation to use this space to share your views and opinions but not to exclude from this forum those with whom you disagree.
Andy Ostmeyer is the editor of The Joplin Globe.