Afflicting the comfortable…it’s never personal

At least once a week (more often lately) someone comes up to me at breakfast or at a public gathering and asks: “Why do you hate (insert name here)?”

When I respond that I don’t hate whomever they are referring to, the followup question is usually “then why did you write all those nasty things about (insert name here)?”

My answer: “Because that’s what I do.”

I’m a newspaperman. Have been most of my life. My job is to report what is happening and raise questions for public consideration and discussion.

Legendary Chicago newspaperman Finley Peter Dunne once said that it is the job of a newspaperman to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I was fortunate enough to be serving on a panel in 1972 with another Chicago journalistic legend — Mike Royko — when he referred to that quote as the basis for our profession.

Most of the time, the comfortable that people like me afflict are public officials — both elected and appointed. Most understand that they have a job to do and so do I. Every once in a while, somebody takes it personal, gets pissed, and gets in my face. Most cool down and later apologize. A few don’t and carry a grudge.

When someone takes an oath to serve the public in an elected or appointed official they also take on a responsibility for public scrutiny. It’s their job to serve the public interest. It’s my job to nail them when they don’t.

For 11 years, while writing for The Alton Telegraph in Illinois, I was a constant thorn in the side of city mayor Paul Lenz. I questioned his actions and motives in print, he questioned my ancestry in public meetings and we would meet for a beer at the end of the day and laugh about it. Former Illinois Gov. Dan Walker called me a “low life S.O.B” at a press conference during his tenure in the governor’s mansion and then invited me to dinner.

Here in Floyd I can question the motives of the Floyd County Board of Supervisors and then later talk politics and motorcycles with Courthouse Supervisor Casey Clinger over a plate of boneless buffalo wings at Pizza Inn.  County administrator Dan Campbell is a fellow Harley rider and friend but that doesn’t mean I won’t report on things that might embarrass him or the county board.  That’s my job.

Some, however, think what I write is personal, be they a public official, a defendant in court or the parent of a teenager who got caught doing something they shouldn’t.  More than one former county official thinks what I wrote about their time in office contributed to their defeat at the polls and that I was “out to get them.”  They fail to realize that it was their actions that cost them their jobs. All I did was report those actions.

As Walter Conkrite once ended his newscasts: “And that’s the way it is.”

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2 thoughts on “Afflicting the comfortable…it’s never personal”

  1. Nice commentary. It’s a job that is often not appreciated.

    Citizens that care about the welfare of all feel that they must participate, which often leads to addressing controversial issues. Never personal.

    As for the Harleys, I just can’t handle the weight, but my ‘rizeburnerr’ does OK. A lot folks I know have Harleys, and many are friends, but you just aren’t totally in the ‘gang’ without a ‘Hog’.

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