I know that the very act of writing this will draw accusations that I am, among other things, naïve, lacking context, arrogant, disrespectful or even flippant.
This awareness gives me a sense of freedom, not to mention a feeling that I just took the wind out of someone else’s sails.
I don’t like discussing local politics. I don’t like thinking about them, and I definitely don’t like writing about them. I’d rather have an 8-hour root canal procedure, with no anesthetic, while listening to Miley Cyrus and watching a marathon of MTV’s “Jersey Shore.” Nothing against any of our local politicians, but I don’t have the patience for it. I’m like that person you never want to play Monopoly with. After a few rounds I just get frustrated, fling the game board across the room and say to hell with it.
But my ears do prick up when something particularly ludicrous creeps into my field of view, and this one was so uniquely ludicrous (not to mention irritating) that I have to address it.
This week a local blogger wrote a piece stating that The Item had recently sent out a series of questions on economic development to several local officials and persons of interests, including Mayor J. Turner. According to this blog, the questions “had the ring of ‘have you stopped beating your wife lately? ' ” and sounded an awful lot like the things we would ask candidates if it were election time. The same blog also said these questions “led some supporters of Turner to wonder” if we weren’t taking our cues from “old-guard camps.” (Old-guard camps? How very “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” of you.)
First, the facts: Yes, we have a series of questions, but they're aimed at eliciting thoughts on a vision for Huntsville, not specifically about economic development. Yes, we are planning to ask numerous people in the community these questions. Yes, Mayor J. Turner is one of those people.
The Lies: No one but Mayor Turner has received these questions. He requested to see the questions in advance of any interview he might give, and they were provided to him. I repeat, no one save Mayor Turner, not even the sinister “Old-Guard,” has received these questions. He did express concern over the questions, and we, in turn, are taking those concerns into consideration. The questions will be making an appearance in the near future. I might also note that the blogger's post accuses us of asking the mayor what has been “lost” during his tenure. Truth: the question is “what has been lost in Huntsville” over the unspecified timeframe of the respondent's residency here. Turner's tenure is not even implied. The questions we allowed Turner to see are still on my desk if you’d like to see them.
And now comes the part where all those accusations about my naivete and flippant, upstart attitude start flying.
There are people in this town who watch our every move as though we were teen pop stars (We’re happy to trade jobs with teen pop stars, by the way, if anyone can make that happen.). They want to know what we’re talking about, who we’re talking to, why we’re not talking to other people and exactly what it is we intend to accomplish. Some of these people are very pleased by the answers to these questions, other people are not. It’s the nature of the news. Someone will always be unhappy.
What's mystifying is the accusation that by asking a few questions of a public official with complete control of his own answers (which we told him we intended to transcribe directly from the audio recording of his interview), we’re up to something sinister. By attempting a series on people's visions of a future Huntsville, we’re somehow scheming to bring down a local leader.
Well, I guess the truth is out. That’s right, Huntsville. We’re super-villains.
And those questions designed to manipulate the mayor into saying something that would tank his future campaign are only just the beginning! We’re plotting to place whoopee cushions in every chair on the council dais. And some day soon — you won’t know when, but it’s coming — our army of miniature robots will be complete, and we’ll march on City Hall with silly string, toilet paper and firecrackers!
But that’s not all. Oh, God help you for what we have planned after that. We’re going to replace the sugar in all your sugar bowls with salt, and short sheet your beds so that you can’t get warm at night. And then we’ll start with the shaving cream. That’s right, one morning soon you will all wake up and find yourselves covered from head to toe in shaving cream, and not the good-smelling gel, the store brand that smells like glue! And then we’ll start in with the wedgies!
And now, a brief return to seriousness. Look, we’re reporters. Our job is to ask questions, and quite often those will be questions that people don’t like answering, and sometimes those people will run and tell their friendly neighborhood blogger how mean we were to them. We’re aware of the divisions in this town. We’re also aware that whatever we do will be analyzed by all sides to see which way we’re leaning, and we do our best to stay in the middle.
If you want the simple version of our situation, I offer an analogy:
Remember when you were a kid and all your friends were playing some game outside, and they designated boundaries by saying, “The yard at the end of the street is lava, and if you walk in there, you’re dead.”
But then you came by later and walked into the yard, and all your friends started shouting “Hey, that’s lava! You’re dead now.” And you replied, “Oh no, I wasn’t playing with you guys, I’m just going to the corner store to get a soda.” Well, we weren’t here when you started playing this little game, so we don’t care about the lava.
Matt Jackson is a reporter for The Huntsville Item.