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Monday, March 19, 2007

Sound Off Echo Filter Turned On

Last week, the Janesville Gazette decided to make a few minor changes to it’s anonymous call-in column known as Sound Off. Apparently, they will no longer allow anonymous comments to call out letter writers by name, a small step forward, but they will be increasing the noise to sound ratio, in other words, they are letting readers know the filter will become even more restrictive – thus taking two steps back. However, I'm not complaining or defending the existence of the Sound Off column in any context for that matter. Make no mistake, printing anonymous comments is a powerful, powerful tool employed by the Gazette.
JG Excerpt:
Our review showed that Sound Off echoes the news and the issues that matter to this community.
Oh,umm sure. But only after one person transcribes the calls and marks them if she believes they come from the same caller, then the Opinion page editor picks and edits the submissions which echo his view of issues that matter to the community and then, he passes them on and they are again reviewed to make sure they echo the issues that really matter.

They can shape and direct public opinion in any fashion they choose without offering one shred of empirical provenance. Of course people shouldn’t be too excited over what the Gazette prints here. What they omit is what should draw concerns. Here is just a sampling of two anonymous comments found in last weeks Gazette – with my response.
JG Sound Off Excerpt:
On Gov. Doyle:
It’s a pretty sad day when Gov. Jim Doyle turns down federal money to the schools just because he doesn’t want abstinence taught to our children. (Page 3B, March 4th) What would it hurt? It might do some good. Sad, sad state of affairs. -- Anonymous
Oh? But Gov. Doyle does want abstinence to be taught in schools, in fact he insists on it – as part of a comprehensive sex education program. Even without the $600,000 from the Fed, Wisconsin schools will teach abstinence, just not in the absence of teaching the birds and the bee’s or warning of sexually transmitted disease.

More and more and particularly during the Bush era, states are being forced to jump through narrow-minded ideological hoops in order to see a return on their Federal tax dollars and this is just a small example. Doyle is to be commended for refusing money that would effectively dumb down our children. The sad, sad part is that Bush now has $600,000 more to waste in Iraq. That money belongs to the Wisconsin taxpayers, and should be put into a state rainy day fund for future school needs.
JG Sound Off Excerpt:
On health care:
Regarding Walter Reed Hospital and maybe other VA facilities, a government healthcare program, be careful what you vote for in the future. We may all be sorry. -- Anonymous
Our President has an ivy-league degree in business. But you wouldn’t know it when you consider what he's done to some of our most precious public entities such as Walter Reed or other once shining jewels serving the common good within our Federal system. Those that he failed to deliberately dismantle he neglected, and those he failed to neglect, he completely and utterly mismanaged. We may not be sorry for what we vote for in the future, but a growing majority are sorry for who we voted for in the past.

The Sound Off column affords the newspapers editors the ultimate potential for packaging a false public perception - and it should never be taken seriously. I tend to view the column mostly for it’s comical entertainment value, plus I can have my way with any comment I choose without offending anyone – after all they’re anonymous.

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