I'm starting Sound Off a little differently today. I simply want to offer a heartfelt congratulations and best wishes to our local high school graduates. What a difficult time they've had to endure these last few months, with the coronavirus, the transition to online learning, and perhaps most importantly, the loss of so many senior year traditions — and well-deserved fun times!

Today we offer our own congratulations, in a special salute to graduates section, to these young women and men who persevered. I hope everyone takes a few minutes to peruse the names of the thousands of graduates who stuck with their studies and are off to take the next step in their lives.

•••

Reader: Please pass along my appreciation to Ron Stapp and Clay Cunningham. During this time of no organized sports activity, they're filling in this lull with very good articles about local athletes. Well done!!

— Terry Beals

Peterson: Appreciation passed on, Terry! I shared your kind words with Ron, Clay and news editor Teddy Feinberg. They are having to get creative, writing about missed sports seasons (especially for seniors) and featuring the accomplishments of local athletes. Additionally, they've jumped in and covered a variety of stories that have nothing to do with sports.

•••

Reader: I second Priscilla Neufeld's letter regarding Leonard Pitts. I read every column he writes that's published in The Californian for two reasons: the man is an incredibly gifted writer (and I love reading good writing), and he has impeccable morals.

For years on my desk at my various newspaper posts I had a quote from Paul Miller, the former president of The Associated Press. It read simply, "Do the right thing."

Leonard Pitts exhorts us to do the right thing, and for our country's leaders to do the right thing. We need his conscience and his clarity. Please keep his column.

— Best, Mike Stepanovich

Peterson: Thanks for weighing in, Mike. As I previously said when some writers criticized Pitts, I think there is value in reading perspectives that aren't ones with which we agree. We all might learn something new by reading opinions that differ from our own.

Somewhere along the way I think some writers to Sound Off thought we're considering no longer using Pitts' columns. That's not the case.

••• 

Reader: As you must know, Kern County voting citizens are more a conservative bent. Yet issue after issue we are bombarded with anti-Trump/Republican articles in the Nation & World section. It is unreadable. For example, printed on Tuesday, June 2, was an article praising Joe Biden: “Biden vows to take on systematic racism in nation.” (Associated Press) authors Alexandra Jaffe, Steve Peoples and Will Weissert did mention President Trump in paragraph seven with a comment about his lack of efforts to unite the country.

(Monday), President Trump gave a wonderful speech from the White House Rose Garden about unifying the country. He then made a bold statement by walking from the White House to the St. John’s Church that was burned by the rioters. He also made a unifying speech Saturday after the rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center. Not one word of either speech was printed in The Californian.

Why not?

The letters to the editor in The Californian are mainly of a liberal bent. However, the letters seem slightly fairer since Robert Price left.

I give kudos to the mother who on two occasions wrote a remembrance to her son praising Trump's accomplishments in the obituaries. It seems one has to pay The Californian to publish anything positive regarding President Trump.

I hope you print this email in the Sound Off section.

— Sincerely, Gary L. Williams

Peterson: I'm giving you at least one thing you want today, Gary: I printed your letter in its entirety.

Your statement that the letters to the editor seem slightly fairer since Robert Price left The Californian simply requires a point-of-order response: Robert didn't select the letters that published in the newspaper for at least the last two years. The letters printed come from the letters received, and most are used. We list the standards for publication in the newspaper several times a week. (One big problem with letters being rejected is those that far exceed the 250-word limit.) Any change you perceive in the "bent" of the letters is most likely a change in what has been received, as the same people are reading the letters and getting them on the pages and on our website.

Gary, I will pay closer attention to the national stories you're complaining about. (Maybe I just gave you two things you want.)

I agree there should have been something about the Rose Garden speech in the paper. You also write that the president made "a bold statement by walking from the White House to the St. John’s Church." I would simply note even some Republicans criticized what led up to it as police cleared Lafayette Park so the president could go to the church.

No, one does not have to "pay" The Californian to say something positive about President Trump. You are right that one mother decided to use the obituaries to praise the president. Her choice.

You're absolutely right that we have not published the president's speeches. I don't know the last time The Californian has printed an entire speech from an elected official; we routinely print quotes from speeches and statements made by people, including the president, as part of an overall story.

Let me talk about the story in Sunday's newspaper on the astronauts, "Space X rocket ship blasts off into orbit with 2 Americans." It look up nearly half a page. It had comments from the astronauts, the NASA administrator, Elon Musk, a spectator and the president. That's a lot of people to get in a story, yes?

The story also included: "President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence flew in for the launch attempt for the second time in four days.

"'I'm so proud of the people at NASA, all the people that worked together, public and private. When you see a sight like that it's incredible,' Trump said after liftoff."

While not an entire speech, the president's laudatory comments were included.

•••

Reader: Simple as it sounds, I like Robert Price's columns and appreciate the freedom of choice his new gig allows him. I used to be a bit tough on Price at times, but always came to appreciate his honest observations, even the unflattering ones on me.

His recent column on teachers, one of whom is going into retirement, was very good. It was a sincere observation on the retirement of someone who appears to be an excellent teacher whose message and care for his students will be missed at the KHSD schools where he spent his career.

Price's former gig at The Californian has been well filled by Christine bland, the current occupant. She is Californian material, a certain “yes” person for conservative Republican Christian thought in both the city and county. In other words, she has not lost a beat in her new gig enforcing the letter content of writers. These conservative Christian California battalion of conservatives need not feel threatened by Christine bland’s timid approach to their vociferous, threatening made-up content. One habit she did adopt from Price is The Californian’s testament to unsigned cowardly letters.

— Panfilo Fuentes

Peterson: Panfilo, I think you were more than a bit tough on Robert. I think you want me to be upset that you called me bland and timid. I have no problem being bland, if that's what I am. But don't confuse my kindness with timidity.

Here's a point where we agree: Robert wrote a great column on retiring civics teacher David Richmond. I observed Richmond in action once many years ago, and I was highly impressed with his knowledge and passion for his students and their learning.

And Panfilo, as I have said before: We require all letters to the editor to be signed. We actually receive quite a few that aren't, and they are not used. (I was intrigued this week upon receiving a handwritten letter by someone who signed it "anonymous pastor," but misspelled anonymous. While I did not personally agree with everything in the letter, it wasn't used as no name was given. Too bad.) But I do allow unsigned letters in Sound Off if the writer is asking a question about our news coverage that warrants an answer.

Executive Editor Christine Peterson answers your questions and takes your complaints about The Californian’s news coverage in this weekly feedback forum. Questions may be edited for space and clarity. To offer your input by phone, call 661-395-7649 and leave your comments in a voicemail message or email us at soundoff@bakersfield.com. Please include your name and phone number; they won’t be published.

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