There have been several instances in the Bagpipe recently where I have noticed a troubling trend in the kind of writing being published. Not the content being covered, but the way authors are communicating their opinions about the topic at hand.
Two instances in particular I would like to call attention to are the “Letter from the Editor” and Dr. Haddad’s “Letter to the Editor” about Thomas Holcombe’s earlier article on contraception. In “Letter from the Editor” it is noted that Mitch Prentis’ article caused outrage among a percentage of the student populace. And while I am greatly appreciative of this acknowledgement and the apology that came along with it, the second point of the article reads as follows: “2. Prentis’ personal take on the play is called a review. This type of writing is different from a news article. Where a news article strives for objectivity, any kind of arts review is necessarily biased. The article was not attempting to report the play, it was attempting to review it.”
Moving past how coddling that may sound, I believe that this somewhat misses the point of the outrage. Prentis attended the performance on its opening weekend, when the production and cast had more than a few kinks to work out that necessarily only show up during a live performance. I know what a review is, and given the circumstances I expected some criticism. However, I am not upset because the article he wrote was “necessarily biased.” I am upset because of the wording he used when expressing his criticism — for example, opening with “I drew the short straw.”
Along the same thread, I agree with Dr. Haddad’s criticism of Mr. Holcombe’s article, when she asserts that Mr. Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke were in no way “comical.” In our culture (and most, I would like to think) calling a woman a “slut” or “prostitute” (or the equivalent) is unacceptable and should be counted as an insult. Rush Limbaugh did not have to use these words, and if he hadn’t it would have made his opinions seem more like legitimate concerns and less inflammatory rambling. He could have even used the same words for his later concerns. Minus calling her a slut, he could have simply said, “It concerns me because I feel like I, as a taxpayer, am paying for you to have sex,” or something along those lines. That is a legitimate concern, and one that I think could be shared by people on both sides of the argument.
Put simply, the underlying issue here is that we should choose our words more carefully. Some might counter by saying, “It’s the opinion section, it’s supposed to be biased,” or “You don’t have to read it.” And that is true. But neither do you have to use provocative language that might make others feel irrationally defensive, and consequently start building walls. Because when you use aggressive language, it means I might not read your opinions with the care and thought they deserve. And then I may choose to write an aggressive article in response. And someone else may do the same to me. And then we’ll never get anything done.
As Dr. Haddad said, “Let’s opt out altogether from the pernicious political game of demonizing the evil ‘them’ and idolizing the godly ‘us’.” I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on divine discourse. But it seems to me that “choose your words carefully” is another way to say “speak the truth in love.” I might not have to read The Bagpipe, but I really want to, and a lot of other students do too. You have the right and are encouraged to express your opinions, but doing so in a way that doesn’t feel like a personal attack or irrationally biased criticism is the more beneficial option than masses of readers putting down the most successful student publication on campus.