Opinion: ‘Nobody gets to decide what I believe and what I say but me’

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance discusses a phenomenon in our country concerning freedom of speech

One of my favorite movies, not just among movies about journalism but all movies, is “The Paper.’’ I don’t think it won any significant awards but it had an incredibly talented cast of actors, including Robert Duvall, who played editor Bernie White.

Duvall is one of my favorite actors. I’ve worked for some great newspapermen in my time and I think I would have enjoyed working for Bernie White. One of that character’s best lines in the movie had to do with his views of his paper’s columnists.

“We reek of opinions,’’ he said. “What every columnist at this paper needs to do is to shut the (expletive) up.’’

Well, for the past three weeks, that’s exactly what I’ve done. We’ve had plenty of news to report to keep me busy and I’ve enjoyed continuing to fill my role on our Clark County Today news updates that we offer each week Tuesday through Friday (at 6 p.m.). That’s been quite the undertaking, and a total team effort for our small staff.

But, I haven’t shut up because I’ve been too busy. I didn’t shut up because I didn’t have anything to say. I shut up because nobody listens in this country anymore. Everyone talks, talks, talks and nobody listens. So, for three weeks, I listened. That’s what we’ve been told we need to do. We need to listen and learn. Well, what have I learned?

I’ve learned the world is getting worse, not better. We’re treating each other worse, not better. What’s taking place in cities like Portland and Seattle enrages me. Our economy is crumbling. COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon and our response to it is woefully inadequate. I never believed that I needed to be enlightened, but if I did, I certainly haven’t been.

I’ve said many times, those who believe they are the most tolerant in our society are often the most intolerant. It seems everyone professes to be a proponent of the freedom of speech, but what they often mean is they really only support the freedom of speech they agree with. I’ve also told you before that I grew up in a household with a father who taught me that what goes on in our neighbor’s yard is none of our business and what goes on in our yard is none of their business. Live and let live. You don’t have to agree with that principle and I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life. But, I’m tired of others trying to tell me how to live mine and I’m not going to shut up any longer.

A new national survey, conducted by The Cato Institute and published on my birthday last week (July 22) shows that I’m not the only one who has been reluctant to speak recently. (Do your own research on The Cato Institute, I find them to be a credible source.) Among other things, the survey revealed that 62 percent of Americans say the current political climate in the United States prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive. A very interesting result of the survey is that 52 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents are afraid to share their opinions. Among Republicans, 77 percent are afraid to speak their mind out of concern they will offend someone.

During my years in radio, I had the good fortune to work with Colin Cowherd, who has gone on to enjoy a very successful national career in sports talk radio and television while leaving me to toil in virtual anonymity. Colin used to always say something to the effect that we don’t have the right to be offended by something someone else says. Is something I say “offensive’’ just because someone suggests it is? I don’t think so. I’m tired of others proclaiming themselves the “what’s the latest thing that offends me’’ police.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. I remember in the 1990s, I was a young sports reporter at The Columbian Newspaper.  We went through a period of time when there was a sentiment that we shouldn’t have any departments in our newsroom. Every reporter should be able to cover any story on any day. Expertise was not a prerequisite to being able to present information to the readers. I scoffed at the notion at the time, even though over the past 13 years, ironically, that’s exactly what has happened in my career as a journalist. I’ve written about countless topics I know nothing about.

So, I tried to flip the script on those editors and managers who wanted the newsroom without borders. I wanted to write about politics. I wanted to represent my under-represented conservative brethren. I came up with an idea that I would feature some outspoken conservatives in Clark County and give them a voice that my paper, and most others, didn’t allow and still to this day try not to allow.

I was assigned an editor to work with. The editor is a good man who I still consider a friend to this day. But, it took me six months to get him to publish the package of stories, which eventually was titled, “Conservatives Like Us.’’ He fought me every step of the way. He asked for rewrite after rewrite, change after change. Each time we met there was a new, previously unspoken of, issue with my stories. Now, don’t get me wrong, I consider myself an average writer and I, like most every other reporter, need an editor. But, it was ridiculous that I had to wrestle with him for six months over the project just to finally get a homogenized version published.

So, I’m going to begin speaking again. Not just because it’s a requirement of my job. But, because I have something to say and I have a right to say it. Do with it what you want, I really don’t care if you agree or not.

Because of this same dynamic that I’ve addressed in this column, I try not to post political commentary on my Facebook page. I enjoy Facebook because it allows me to interact with friends and family on a routine basis. But, I did share this recently:

I am outraged by George Floyd’s death, but I don’t condone looting and rioting and I do support good police officers. What’s going on in this country is not the path to social justice. If those things offend you, that’s your problem not mine. Nobody gets to decide what I believe and what I say but me.