Marcoplos vs Herald, Part II

I say "part II", because readers should be aware that Mark Marcoplos was for many years a columnist for the Chapel Hill Herald and was dropped (fired?) for being too politically active (as I understand it).

On December 27, the Herald editorialized: consider the example of Mark marcoplos, longtime spokesman for the Orange County Greens and the chairman of the Orange Water and Sewer Authority. In recent weeks, marcoplos has used a variety of forums to argue that compulsory schooling at the K-12 level is little more than a day care system, part of a capitalist ploy to depress wages. That's right. "If children weren't forced to go to school, then both parents couldn't take jobs outside the home and there would be great pressure to pay people more," he wrote in one newspaper column. I recommend reading the whole editorial to get the context.

Mark has responded to this editorial on orangepolitics and with his own op-ed

Apart from the issues of education raised and covered here on another thread, this spat raises serious questions of the mis-use and abuse of public figures by the press.

Anyone familiar with Mark's views will recognize that the Herald made a straw man out of them to serve their own editorial purposes. The quote from Mark is little more than a self-evident truism, one that, taken out of context as it is, says nothing about the quality or appropriateness of public education.

Although the Herald allowed his reply that does not absolve them of their responsbility to the community to be more accurate in the first place.

All of us who speak out publicly, even or perhaps especially on this blog, are potential fodder for such editorials.

How is the Herald to be held accountable to the community for such distortions? Does this kind of shoddy, yellow journalism really have a place in Orange County?

[disclosure: I am a weekly columnist for the Chapel Hill Herald.]



This is a decent community standard for editorials and Ray's fell far short.

"Honor your own viewpoints by expressing them thoughtfully, and treating your fellow discussers at least as well as you would treat your neighbor (ie: someone you have to get along with even if you don't like each other). Try to criciticize ideas instead of people. In other words, play nice!"

Ray's editorial also incorrectly characterized my views on public education. But sometimes you just let things alone and move on. Mr. Marcoplos has already responded in the Herald, and has thus given readers the opportunity to judge whether he was treated fairly in the editorial. The best one can hope for is that a newspaper's editorial page will be open to varying points of view and be willing to accept criticism of its own editorial positions and choices. That seems to be true in this case, so urging Mr. Coleman to resign in protest would seem to be an overreaction.

Bravo Mr. Hood!


No one was urging Mr. Coleman to resign in protest. I know Dan, and I think he understands my sense of humor. My point was similar to yours -- that the only really effective response was response in kind, the other options being either futile or absurd. Good lord -- having Dan resign as a columnist is the last thing I want.

(Well, actually if it was a choice between Dan resigning and Eddie Hatcher busting out of prison to take the paper at gunpoint, I think I'd choose having Dan resign. I hate guns.)

The main question this raises for me is:

If this wasn't considered an inappropriate personal attack, then what would?

It is an issue of community standards and the responsibility of those who wield the power of the press. I'm not particularly thin-skinned and my engagement on this site is evidence that I respect a good debate, but this editorial was devoid of any substantive argument and full of personal invective. Apparently I may have misjudged where the community standards might be.



Thanks for expanding the discussion to include the important point that Mark has no particular standing in a discussion of schools unless you were looking for an opinion from a random person who had home-schooled. It's similar to a point I raised on an earlier thread last a few months ago about poor selection of sources, especially since o-pol has come on line.

And thanks for the suggestion that I resign as a columnist in solidarity with Mark. I'll think it over. Of course, as long as I'm a columnist, I can't cancel my subscription either.

Another option to add to your list is starting our own paper. I pointed that possibility out to Mark but he reminded me that we'd done that already.



The original editorial is not available, nor is Mark's op-ed piece, and Mark's efforts to rally support on OP have not been very persuasive IMHO. If people are willing to state their beliefs in a public place, such as OP or the newspaper, then they need to be prepared to accept the fallout for how those ideas are interpreted.

Yellow journalism is a journalist's personal/political interpretation of the news rather than a clearly labeled editorial opinion. Mark also had several public venues to take issue with that editorial opinion. That's the value of digital communications such as this blog--it removes power from journalists and puts it directly into the hands of private citizens.

Yellow journalism is a manipulation of the public through falsifying news. I really don't think this is manipulation by the Herald, even if you don't like what they wrote in an editorial opinion (which no one can read because it is no longer available). Mark's objections will have a much longer lifespan, without an objective reporting of what the Herald published.

It seems there are at least five options:

1. The option Mark has taken, to reply in print.

2. To cancel one's subscription.

3. To organize a boycott.

4. To take a page from the Eddie Hatcher playbook and seize the paper by force.

4. To resign from one's position as a columnist in solidarity.

Mark has chosen the only solution that can really help to correct the record, which I would think would be the first concern. But when you talk about ensuring that the paper (or any paper) is sufficiently accurate, or not practicing one's definition of "yellow journalism," or doesn't "abuse" public figures in print, you lose me. As long as people -- journalists or not -- are imperfect, as long as the daily media puts speed and glibness atop its priority list, as long as public figures speak candidly (thank god for that!) on controversial subjects that they know are going to draw comment, as long as straw man debate rules the rhetorical roost in our society -- you're going to have situations like this.

In Ray's defense, I think you'd find that a number of people reading Mark's remarks on would have drawn similar conclusions. At first, we may be baffled by why Ray chose to base his editorial on comments made in a forum like this one (which has the bantering character of a cocktail party most of the time), but then I guess we've got to accept that this site has become a very visible, very public forum. If Mark had risen at a school board meeting and given the same disquisition on the relation of compulsory public education to groupthink and constrained freedom (a view that George Orwell also shared; it's not as uncommon an idea as it's being made out to be), I think we wouldn't be that shocked if the paper chose to write a story about it. And perhaps that's the problem here -- instead of reporting it as a story, and giving Mark a chance to respond and explain, it was written as an editorial, and Mark's only recourse was to respond in kind days later.

Finally, with apologies to Mark, one could ask why his comments were given any special attention at all. Sure, he's on the OWASA board, and if his comments were about development or water and sewer policy, I think that's news. But his comments on schools are not related to his role as a public figure, and they ought to be seen as the views of a private citizen and no more newsworthy than the fact that I think that retirees are piggishly devouring the fruits of my labor at ever increasing rates, and not even leaving me some scraps to pick over. I think we all may hold some controversial views as private citizens, views unrelated to our work or our public figure status, and so it's curious why Mark was singled out in this way. Of course, as Howard Dean is learning in Iowa, politicians and journalists are masters of making news out of out-of-context quotes, and I think you're going to have to remake the entire structure of American journalism and politics before you fix that problem, Dan.


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