Reader: I don't understand how TBC Media can endorse Mike Williams for the Kern High School District Board of Trustees, and I would like you to help me understand. A year ago Mike was angry with The Californian because you guys printed an opinion he didn't like so he threatened to pull the plug on TBC coverage of anything KHSD. He was ready to cut ties, including advertising. People were calling for his resignation after that stunt, and now you want people to give him the vote?
He is one of the most radical and impulsive board members we have had in decades. Not only has he attempted to abuse his power as a board member, but he has repeatedly trash-talked teachers on social media and even attempted to force his agenda on the district by pushing a policy that allows civilians to carry guns on high school campuses.
Why are you encouraging people to vote for him? I realize he owns a local business. Honestly — his advertising dollars couldn't be that much.
— Diana Greenlee
Price: We don't often pull back the curtain on the dark art of editorial endorsements, but since you asked: It's an inexact science that factors in timing, experience and leadership, and it operates on the premise that incumbents deserve a slight benefit of the doubt.
We don't base endorsements on any one plank in a candidates' platform, or any one statement (or, as in Williams' case, one ill-considered Facebook outburst about a community columnist's criticism of President Trump). We base it on the body of work.
Of course one could argue that, in Williams' case, that body of work does not merit his re-election, as several readers have done. Many express support for retired teacher Cynthia Brakeman, his opponent, who has acquitted herself well in interviews and public appearances. I invite readers to Google them both and read or view what they've said about the issues facing local schools and education in general. Don't take our word for it; our list of endorsements is intended to get readers thinking, not necessarily tell them how to vote.
Jim Lawitz, vice president and executive editor of TBC Media, coordinates our editorial board. "We don't have to agree on every single thing a candidate stands for, we just have to see a positive direction and a willingness to work for the greater good," Lawitz said. "For example, we didn't agree that it was wise to arm teachers, as Mike Williams advocated, but we agreed with him on things like expulsion policy and discipline. Rarely are these decisions cut and dried."
The editorial board deliberates and votes on which candidates and positions we should support. I'm a member and I have a vote. Sometimes our endorsement decisions are unanimous and sometimes they're not, but once they're determined, it's settled. We don't issue dissenting opinions.
We feel like we have a responsibility to endorse one way or another; in the rare cases where we've opted to sit out a particular race, I'm usually left with a queasy sense of incompleteness. But then I'm often a little queasy at election time.
Reader: Regarding Jason Kotowski's Oct. 11 article, “Reports: Man accused of attacking woman with machete said she’s his best friend”: A few things bothered me about this article. You refer to Blaine Hodge, who intervened against the machete attacker, twice as a “good Samaritan.” Although this is correct, you never once referred to him as to what he really is — a hero. The basic definition of a hero is someone who does a courageous act on the behalf of another usually by putting his life in danger. This is exactly what Mr. Hodge did.
Another aspect of the article which was bothersome was that the picture you show of Mr. Hodge is focused on his injured hand with his face blurry in the background. Why not show a clear picture of the one who committed such an act of bravery? You have done so many times in your newspaper of other “good Samaritans.” The only reason I can see that you would downplay the actions of this man is right there in the picture — Mr. Hodge’s blurry face indicates that he is not white.
— F.J. Urso
Price: Black people must not be referred to as heroes — that's our long-standing policy at The Californian. Kotowski is apparently aware of it, but I messed up when I wrote about Hodge's actions in my Sept. 13 column, "No cape, but hip-hop hero took on machete man anyway." The word "hero" or "superhero" appears seven times. Kotowski's followup, based on newly released court documents, focused on the attacker and his female target, but his references to Hodge's role made it abundantly clear this was a selfless act of courage. Now we're both in trouble, I'm afraid. So is photographer Henry Barrios, whose photos of Hodge — we've published eight of his face, in print or online — clearly reveal his ethnicity.
You should be aware, F.J., that the word "hero" is a value judgment that is not appropriate in straight news stories — no matter what the subject's race — unless it appears in a quote.
Reader: Your letters editor, Ema Sasic, asserts the following: “AP style and other style guides we follow discourage the use of 'Dr.' (preceding an individual's name) except when it refers to physicians in order to minimize reader confusion." Will I need to remind you next January, when you publish articles remembering Dr. Martin Luther King? Perhaps, we should refer to him as Martin Luther King Jr. with an "*."
— Greg Laskowski
Price: No, you won't need to remind us because we don't typically put "Dr." in front of his name. We have consistently referred to the national holiday in January by its official name, "Martin Luther King Jr. Day," although I'm sure we've slipped up a time or two. But the "Dr." version of his name has appeared legitimately in our pages for various reasons: Bakersfield's "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park," which is on "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard," hosts an annual "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Awards Breakfast" and perhaps other similarly named events. We didn't name those things — others did, and it's not our place to correct them.
You can assign the good doctor (of "systematic theology," earned from Boston University in 1955) an asterisk if you want, Greg, but we'll just stick with Associated Press style. But we'll also continue to respect the names that local institutions give to parks, streets and events.
If Dr. King is an exception to the AP's "Dr." rule, it's because common usage has made him an exception. The rest of the world is not compelled to observe AP style; news media organizations are.
Yes, Greg, as you point out, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded in 1991 that King had plagiarized parts of his dissertation by "failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” But the committee also said that "no thought should be given to the revocation of Dr. King's doctoral degree." So, what BU declined to do, AP advocates: Remove the "Dr."
Reader: It was very obvious from your reply last week to Jack Balfanz, whose letter to the editor about Sen. Dianne Feinstein was rejected for reasons of taste, violated common decency. You edited out certain portions in your discussion of his letter. Still, what was left of his letter reflected poorly on the respectable citizens of Bakersfield. I realize TBC had to give readers an idea of the tone and language used in the letter, but its author vilified our city and portrayed its citizens as low-class. It is undeniable that civility has gone down the drain under the Trump administration.
It's no wonder that the writers of the movie "Castaway," starring Tom Hanks, identified Bakersfield as the headquarters of a company that makes port-a-potties. After reading this letter, who could blame them?
— David Losa
Price: I don't think we can attribute negative perceptions of Bakersfield to one letter, or even a lot of letters like it, because rhetorical venom like Balfanz's is common all over the country. And it didn't start with Trump's election. It also didn't get any better with Trump's election.
Reader: Among the other wonderful traits you possess, Robert, you are also quite sneaky. You edited my Facebook comments and cherry-picked them. Why didn't you share my comments that you were the self-anointed face of TBC because your picture appeared so frequently? You also omitted my statement that once upon a time, when TBC was a fair and honest paper, you couldn't have gotten a job as a paperboy. I really appreciate you correcting my grammar since you are such a master of the English language, although you don't always express it fairly.
— Jack Balfanz
Price: I omit some of your statements, Jack, because we can't possibly print them all. I can only find space in this already-too-long column for the most outrageous of them.
Last week you were right about something, though, and I was wrong — embarrassingly so. Your original letter began with a reference to "liberal loons" accusing "any innocent man of sexual assault whom they want to destroy." I suggested you misused "whom," but you did not. Poetry it was not, but it was grammatically correct. I have asked colleagues to flog me with a copy of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" and they are alarmingly anxious to comply.
Reader: Regarding last week's Sound Off column, "That 2016 election is over but the fakeness is still coming": The hardest part about identifying fake news is that it often doesn't seem fake. It's packaged in very effective trappings. Thanks for the article.
I would point out, however, that The New York Times is hardly "progressive," as you suggested. Center-left, definitely. But, there are plenty of instances where The Times reports things that go against liberal causes (e.g., the recent reporting about Rod Rosenstein allegedly wanting to wear a wire and invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office). Don't believe Trump's hype that The Times is wildly liberal and full of fake news.
Price: I agree. Trump doesn't complain when the Times prints something that underscores his position or his world view — and, yes, it happens. But my point was that reliable, non-fake news media is abundant if you're willing to look. The Times qualifies despite its left lean, just as The Wall Street Journal qualifies despite its right lean.
Reader: Your answer to the reader's question about the use of the "Dr." title made me think of how Arthur Hailey made fun of that confusion in his book "Hotel." Someone had a heart attack in the lobby of the hotel and so the manager searched through the register looking for a doctor. They found Dr. So-and-So and called him. "No," the doctor said, "I'm a doctor of music."
— Matt Jett