This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian’s news coverage. Your questions — which may be edited for space — are answered here each Saturday by The Californian’s Robert Price.
Reader: Regarding the Feb. 20 article "Bakersfield students organize protest in wake of Florida school shooting": Twelve students at the protest march and The Californian writes an article on it? Once again, The Californian is the "useful tool." One day students are eating Tide Pods and abusing opioids, the next day they're lecturing us on gun control legislation.
— Gary Johns
Price: Those crazy kids. First they intentionally poison themselves with packets of laundry detergent, then they — the same, exact individual teens, no doubt — try to call attention to this country's estimated annual 13,000 gun homicides by participating in a march. Shouldn't they be home playing online games or something?
What's the cutoff number for protest-march newsworthiness, anyway? Twenty? Fifty? A hundred? Does it matter that the march was organized on short notice, was held on the third day of a three-day weekend, and included 80 nonstudents? Should our reporter have turned around and left upon learning that adults had the audacity to participate too?
A new CBS poll released Friday finds that 65 percent of Americans back stricter gun laws, up 8 points from December, and "the highest number recorded in this poll," according to CBS. The largest jump in support came from Republicans, up 14 points. Clearly the needle is moving and the sudden activism of high school students is a big reason why. That warrants our attention. Sorry you find that irritating. Try popping a Tide Pod; maybe you'll feel better.
Reader: Bob Price's column on the dangers of being a Kern County teacher was inappropriate ("Peace on campus remains an elusive goal," Feb. 21). Thousands of students will be marching in Washington on March 24 and I hope The Californian will send Price to interview all the teachers and students who will be demanding sensible gun control laws. That's better than interviewing some jaded teachers who I believe should not be teachers if they go to work in fear. Right now we need a real discussion on gun control to protect our most precious citizens, our children!
— Bill Guerrero
Price: The fact that so many teachers are saying they choose not go to school in fear strikes me as a perfect illustration of the concern over the potential for campus gun violence. The column was inappropriate? Umm...
I doubt I'll go to Washington for the March 24 march. We'll cover the local marches in Bakersfield; our wire services will cover the activity elsewhere. But thanks for the vote of confidence.
Reader: I just wanted to thank you personally, Robert, for your amazing article Sunday ("We've counted the immediate victims, but a second wave of them is inevitable," Feb. 18) helping to bring to life the true story of PTSD in our EMS family. We have seen far too many who have lost the battle, and it’s about time it's brought to the surface of reality.
Keep up the great work!
— Kevin L. Burton
Price: Thanks Kevin. The Rotary Club program I wrote about, which is dedicated to helping first responders deal with the psychological scars that their jobs can inflict, is a worthy one.
Reader: I would like more info on this PTSD-fighting program of the Rotary Club. My son has now quit his police job because of the issues described in your Feb. 18 column. He moved back home to Bakersfield last weekend. I would love for him to go on the next Rotary House Retreat. If you could give me a phone number or email I would appreciate it.
— Name withheld
Price: Done. Good luck to you both.
Reader: I've noticed a lessening of the anti-President Trump rhetoric concerning the political cartoons lately. It's much appreciated and thank you.
I think it will help both sides calm down and better serve the community.
— Chris Padham
Price: We try to keep it even-handed but it's never easy. I'd say the welcome and unexpected easing of harassment was more a case of distracted cartoonists than anything we've done here. But we'll take the compliment anyway.
Reader: Kudos to The Californian for its coverage of the Tastries Bakery case. It was calm, thoughtful, and balanced. But since no good deed goes unpunished, I have to disagree with Robert Price's conclusion that the bakery should ultimately be forced to make the gay wedding cake at issue ("Of sugar, flour, eggs and free speech," Feb. 7).
As I understand it, shop owner Cathy Miller does not refuse service to any individual, however she does object to lending her talent and skill to an activity with which she strongly disagrees. While the law prohibits refusing service to people based on their sexual orientation, it is not at all clear that it forces citizens to promote the activities in which such people engage.
To test this, let's put the proverbial shoe on the other foot. Suppose a customer offers to pay The Californian to print a feature lavishing praise on Donald Trump. What's more, the customer wants a writer associated with The Californian — let's say Eye Street columnist Valerie Schultz — to write the text under her byline and The Californian's banner.
In this hypothetical situation the paper's owner, management, and Ms. Schultz all find Donald Trump to be repugnant in his person and politics. They refuse.
The customer has no writing skills, so he insists Ms. Schultz use her talent to write a quality feature. Since The Californian holds itself out to the public as a publisher of news and opinion, he contends the paper and its staff should be required to compose and print whatever opinion a customer requests. Further, he believes his right to equal access mandates the active cooperation of The Californian's writers even if they disagree with his views.
I realize this hypothetical is not identical to the actual event. But the same question — and principle — should apply to both of these situations:
• Should Cathy Miller be forced to employ her skill, effort, and a portion of her life to promote something with which she profoundly disagrees?
• Should Valerie Schultz and The Californian be forced to employ their skill, effort, and a portion of their lives to promote something with which they profoundly disagree?
Tolerance of other people's ideas and behavior is a societal necessity, even if the ideas and behavior are disagreeable to many. But using the state's power to force individuals to promote ideas and behavior they find personally objectionable is contrary to a basic principle of our form of government — freedom of expression. I'm surprised that The Californian, whose existence depends on that freedom, advocates that Cathy Miller should be deprived of that same freedom.
— Kent Goble
Price: You raise some good points, Kent, but your comparison misses the mark in a couple of places. First, The Californian, like most newspapers, does not sell "sponsored" stories that masquerade as objective news articles, or on-demand opinion articles either, even if your fictional customer "contends" it should. Now, Ms. Schultz — who contributes to The Californian as a freelancer, not an employee — may offer her services as an advertising copywriter on the side, but that's something else entirely. Even if she did, though, The Californian would be under no obligation to print her work in its news pages free of charge. But a paid advertisement? Sure, as long as it's identified as such. Operators are standing by to take your call.
Readers are perfectly welcome to lavish praise on Donald Trump in our Opinion pages, and they do so regularly. Those who feel they don't write well shouldn't have much trouble finding like-minded people willing to voluntarily tighten up their prose.
We publish readers' opinions free of charge as space permits. All we ask is that such submissions are reasonably coherent, stay within the word-count limit, and make clear points without inventing facts or calling people names.
So, let's recap. Does The Californian offer its reporters and columnists as journalists-for-hire to the general public? No. Does Cathy Miller offer her services as a baker-for-hire to the general pubic? Yes. She threw up a shingle saying she designs and bake cakes and that's precisely what the same-sex couple in question walked in to buy from her.
An interesting aside: Miller's attorney has said her defense is based on artistic freedom, and if one accepts that cake-making is, to a sufficient degree, artistic expression, that's a reasonable argument. But in her conversation with our Steven Mayer last week, Miller portrayed her refusal as a religious objection. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that sincerely held religious beliefs do not excuse citizens from observing anti-discrimination laws. Agree or not, that's the precedent set forth in 1983's Bob Jones University vs. United States.
Reader: Thanks so much for the excellent column about the wedding cake fiasco ("Of sugar, flour, eggs and free speech," Feb. 7). Hopefully our community will be able to see your reasonable explanation of how wrong it is to connect religious belief with a refusal to provide a service. I especially appreciate the line about how Ms. Miller chooses this one sin as her justification to discriminate.
— Larry Elman
Reader: Last year the BHS Virtual Business Team won the state competition and then the national title in NYC. There was a nice write up in TBC. This year's team has repeated as state champions and is preparing for the trip to New York for the national competition.
In view of the fact that my granddaughter, Maddy Rivera, is CEO of this year's company, you can understand my interest in this matter.
— Jim Harris
Price: Congratulations, Jim. Sorry it took us awhile to get around to it, but the story finally appeared in Friday's paper. We do try to celebrate high school students' academic achievement as well as their athletic glory.
Reader: Rosemary LaBonte's letter to the editor should have made the front page. People should pass it on, through the internet, because The Californian won't publish it. Tear down our Statue of Liberty? Dear Lord, what is this country coming to?
— Norma Sacchini
Price: Dear Lord, Norma, do a little research. It's so easy with search engines like Google. The LaBonte letter, a response to another letter-writer who had suggested that the Statue of Liberty be razed because the U.S. no longer welcomes immigrants, was sent to the Orange County Register in 2006, and the Register — perhaps the most conservative major newspaper in California — rejected it. A reader sent LaBonte's letter to The Californian in 2014 and we declined it to publish it because it was old, recycled and not intended for our use by the original writer. But if it fits your put-upon worldview to criticize us anyway, go for it.
Reader: I love Anna Smith's Monday columns. I love how she highlights hard working local business people who make our community great. All the subjects she chooses add value. Thanks, Anna, for your positive approach and for providing an interesting, smart, hip column! Keep up the good work.
— Kelly Clanton
Reader: I have to admit I like Robert Price in his new column. He is walking the fence with one red shoe and one blue shoe. But regardless of which foot is down at the time, he sometimes steps in it. That must be uncomfortable.
— Panfilo Fuentes
Price: That's definitely a hazard of the job. I hose off the bottom of my loafers daily.
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Robert Price's column appears Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @stubblebuzz. The opinions expressed are his own.