Birney Imes: Voice of the people

April 13, 2013 10:00:05 PM



We love letters to the editor. Not only do they affirm the vital role newspapers play in our communities, they often provide a fresh take on pressing local issues. My only problem with letters to the editor -- and I expect most newspaper editors of small town papers would say the same thing -- is the scarcity of them. 


A letter to the editor can be a powerful statement. Someone ventures an opinion and then, like John Hancock, faced with the possibility of his signature being his death warrant, puts his name on it for all to see. OK, I exaggerate, but you get the point. 


Be it a lack of time, concern or courage, there are too few writers of letters out there. 


Believing a good idea deserves to be aired regardless the source, we frequently print comments from online readers. Generally, these commenters choose to remain anonymous.  


Cameron Triplett of Brooksville, however, is not one to don the cloak of anonymity. The most prolific of our letter writers, Triplett weighs in on issues he has opinions about. And they are many. Mr. Triplett, has little regard for political correctness, and more than one reader -- this one included -- has winced when reading his letters. To his detractors, I say, write us a letter stating your views. They seldom do. 


Letters can provoke and enlightening exchange, as this one from a Triplett letter we published April 8: 




Guns and presidents 


A gun is like an insurance policy, it's better to have one and not need it than to need one and not have it. I have simply presented a gun three times in my life and prevented a crime upon me without firing a single shot. It's 10 times worse, a thousand times worse if you don't have one because the government says you can't when the document that founded our nation guarantees every citizen that right. ... Political correctness is ruining this country. 


... An article in Sunday's paper mused on the question of whether or not Hillary Clinton would run for president in 2016. ... she will be 70 years old. It's time for her to go home and bake cookies and pester Chelsea to have her some grandchildren. This country does not need a menopausal old dingbat liberal extremist in the oval office ... We need somebody who not only knows how to turn this country around the right way, but also has the will to do it. It won't be long before this country will have more people on welfare than are working. Our country is dying and Washington politicians don't seem to care as long as they keep getting re-elected. 


Cameron Triplett 






And then the online response printed two days later: 


Voice of the people: Cameron Triplett 


swampthing2: Mr. Triplett: Naturally, you have a right to your opinion and even though I periodically decide never to read another of your letters -- I find them to be a bit like a 95-car pile-up on the Interstate -- it's hard to look away. Like many in these forums, you seem to have no problem brandishing your opinions as if they are obvious truths once they've been read by us will be so self-evident as to rarely require even a shred of supporting evidence (and only a shred, at best). ... Your latest letter really set me to thinking, though. Here's what it made me think: I am pretty sure that I could read fewer of them and be just as well off -- there's more than enough vitriol to go around as it is. That would leave you some time to do something more useful, like, say, bake some cookies. And let us know when you are appointed to any useful public office, too. It wouldn't have to be at the level of secretary of state -- even being dogcatcher of Brooksville would be contributing to the community. 




Which evoked a letter to the editor published April 11: 


Criticism from anonymous sources 


Cameron Triplett is my favorite local letter writer. He expresses himself with clarity and vigor. One can never be in doubt about where he stands. I very seldom agree with him, but I always look forward to what he has to say. 


I look forward to reading his critics also. They express themselves well too and I usually agree with what they say. 


There is, however, one big difference between Triplett and his critics: courage. You know who Cameron Triplett is, he's Cameron Triplett. Two of his critics are Raider and swampthing2. Who are these guys or girls? Only an insider knows for sure. 


Anonymity can serve a useful purpose and has been well defended in these pages. Criticism of a known local letter writer by anonymous responses should be an exception. 


Billy Hairston 


Sulligent Ala. 




And then an anonymous response to Hairston's letter making a case for anonymous comments: 


KJ705: In a state like Mississippi, where civil rights in particular lack certain specific protections, where some elected figures wield varying degrees of power without appropriate checks and balances, and with a community of our size unable to provide functional anonymity (when people know your name but are unlikely to know you), the opportunity for true anonymity is crucial to public discourse. 


Many local writers speak directly to issues for which the expression of contrary opinions could have a negative impact on one's personal and social interactions as well as one's employment. In these cases, too, anonymity enables participation and--perhaps more importantly--dissent. When only some opinions are safe to air, fear-based silence is likely to be misinterpreted as acquiescence. That's why anonymity is important. 


While eloquent in her argument, KJ705 did not address Hairston's criticism of the paper for allowing an anonymous commenter to attack Triplett. Anonymity may be justified when the expression of an unpopular opinion could affect someone's livelihood. It's not, however, when used to hide behind while bashing someone with whom you disagree. I think that's called cowardice. 


With city elections approaching, this is a good time to voice your opinion. Have the courage of your convictions. Write a letter to the editor. Challenge the candidates, tell us who you support and why. Your community will be better for it.