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We should strive to escape our islands of opinion

Despite the fact this is the so-called “Information Age,” a barrage of conflicting statements, manipulated data and purposefully touted misinformation has muddied our political discourse and has made each person an island of opinion. As information consumers, the trend today is to seek out media communities that support an opinionated worldview, and to hold vehemently to that perspective despite earnestly gathered information that conflicts with it.

Everything is suspect, and few sources beyond those that back up our opinions —often uninformed — are consulted in our decision-making processes. Never mind the fact too many readers today are satisfied to scan headlines only, leaving the meat of news reports untouched. And from those headlines are spawned baseless opinions that reflect in silly prepackaged postcards on websites such as Facebook.

We have seen it here at The Spotlight when our reporting is called into question because we present facts — facts, not opinions — that conflict with a candidate’s supporters’ perception of their hero. The assertion from these critics is clear: We are playing favorites for our “friends” who serve in local political positions. Some have even been as verbose as to claim we don’t write our own news and opinion copy, and instead leave it up to our friends in office to manage that task.

Though we are frequently in a position of having to work professionally with local politicians, which necessarily places reporting staff in close contact with elected officials on a weekly basis, our reports on hard news events, such as political races and investigations, are unbiased and factual. We have no “friends” in office, and as the publisher who is responsible for editorial content I fully intend for it to remain that way. Professional acquaintances, yes. But not friends.

We have been asked at times to hold information, and there have been cases where news subjects have tried to convince us stories not favorable to them are unworthy of our time or ink, but at no time since I’ve been publisher have we acquiesced to those requests.

Likewise, The Spotlight is solely responsible for content appearing as editorials in our Opinion section. As endorsements are concerned, we evaluate the pros and cons of each candidate objectively and render our opinion based on whom we believe would do the best job for Columbia County and our readers.

Admittedly, it is increasingly difficult today to navigate the rising sea of misinformation in the quest for the truth about any particular candidate or topic. Three cases in point are the current congressional probe involving former Army Gen. and ex-CIA Director David Petraeus regarding the Sept. 11 Libyan consulate attack resulting in the deaths of three Americans and, closer to home, the delayed result of the electoral race between Mayo and Fisher and the contentious Sheriff’s Office race between incumbent Jeff Dickerson and challenger David Fuller.

As the later case is concerned, several have asserted the Oregon State Police investigation into Fuller was politically motivated at the urging of Dickerson. We are not denying that possibility, and in fact will continue to examine any information presented to us that could steer us to that conclusion. So far, we haven’t seen any definitive proof to that end. Contrarily, the released OSP investigative report raised enough concerns, as did our exclusive reporting, that led us to exclude Fuller as the best candidate for that office. And, yes, we had requested OSP’s disciplinary file on Dickerson, to which the office replied it did not have one.

Interestingly, the Petraeus scandal has a pervasive current of partisan maneuvering that clouds real questions regarding compromised national security. We are left with the sense Republicans are hoping to use this as proof of information manipulation by the Obama administration in the lead up to the election, and Democrats are on the defensive in an effort to demonstrate the administration’s appointees followed appropriate protocol for information distribution. The politicization has become the story for the masses, and that’s unfortunate.

Lastly, only Monday morning did we receive definitive word that Fisher had won by a slim margin of 232 votes. We had endorsed Fisher over Mayo because we firmly believe he is better equipped to lead Columbia County forward. He is knowledgeably about his roles and responsibilities and works faithfully for the benefit of county residents.

But that does not excuse Fisher — and all compensated elected officials in our readership area — from doing a better job explaining to constituents and the media why they are the best in their position. This has to occur more often than every four years. It needs to be ongoing, as much an ingrained part of their workweek as any other component of their job.

In today’s tug-of-war across the political landscape for hearts and minds, we all have a responsibility to challenge our perceptions, to make our informed voices heard, to ask questions of the institutions — including the media — that shape our opinions, and to demand our politicians prove their worth. This should not occur at the compromise of our civility, however; in fact, it should occur as a necessary ingredient for civility to exist.

— Darryl Swan, publisher