Debate over issues must be wide open

While other newspapers in the area have refused, the Polk County Itemizer Observer is running a paid political insert this week from congressional candidate Brian Boquist.

It's important you know why.

It's not the money. The money brought in by one campaign insert means very little to the fortunes of the newspaper. It's also not because we endorse Brian Boquist. We don't endorse candidates for public office.

We feel that's a decision best left to voters.

To tell you the truth, we find Boquist's insert troubling. He claims he's not throwing mud at incumbent U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, just pointing out her record. He may actually believe that.

What we see, however, are issues reduced to the lowest common denominator. Boquist oversimplifies Hooley's record by not bothering with the subtle whys and wherefores of her votes. He simply goes for the gut reaction.

Most bills that go before Congress come with a dizzying array of attachments and riders. You can pick apart any bill and find something to criticize.

Specifically, look at Boquist's statement that Hooley voted on four different occasions in support of the use of taxpayer funds for abortion services in foreign nations.

That's really stretching things. Hooley voted for United Nations aid packages to provide, among other things, family planning information to women in Third World countries.

Some of the money from that package may have gone to agencies that offer abortion services. Is it accurate to say Hooley endorses tax-funded abortions in foreign countries?

Boquist also points out that Hooley voted against a patients' bill of rights. Yes she did. It was a bill of rights drafted by insurance companies. She opted for another version.

One could argue that Boquist is technically accurate in every instance, but it's a case of being accurate without necessarily being true. Mudslinging is not just erroneous attacks on a person's character. It's throwing out the facts in a way that makes the other person look bad.

We know. We deal with facts every day that, worded just right, could make people look cruel or ignorant. However, we know that facts don't exist in a vacuum. They exist in a context. Without reporting that context, we're just playing word games. We're not really telling the truth.

Having said all that, it's important to run Brian Boquist's take on Darlene Hooley's record. First of all, he has a right to say it. We would run similar sentiments in a letter to the editor.

We refuse to run opinions that are libelous or obscene. People can debate whether or not Boquist's comments are in good taste, but they are neither libelous or obscene. Our system of government only works when there is a vast marketplace of ideas.

One of our roles in that process is to keep the debate of public issues as open and robust as possible. That means allowing tones we may find too harsh or ideas we may not agree with at all.

We understand why other newspapers decided differently. It's not an easy question. We wrestled with it quite awhile before coming to our decision. We want to be fair, but we also want to give everyone a turn at the mike. Congresswoman Hooley has as much opportunity as Brian Boquist.

We want to err on the side of openness. We trust, in that grand American tradition, that the truth will rise out of a chorus of conflicting voices.


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