Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Controlling the Headline (or not)

So, prompted by the recent active inclusion of state employees in political ads during the recent campaign cycle, I set out to write a piece that would provoke debate on a simple question -- should Virginia have a state level Hatch Act that would protect state employees from pressure to engage in partisan political activities? And, I thought I'd managed to focus the piece on the issue rather than the people. But, having submitted the piece with the title "Hatching Virginia?," I didn't remember to ask what title the headline writers were going to use. Unfortunately, their choice focused the reader on the person who used the ads rather than the issue, and made it seem as if I was attacking the individual rather than the topic. Perhaps this was too nuanced a distinction. I still think that the issue is an important one.

So, here's a link to the Back Page piece I wrote that appeared in Style Weekly today.

And, here's the text of the Letter to the Editor that I've written and asked be published next week:

To the Editor:

I should have known better. I wrote what I believed was a thoughtful Back Page piece meant to invite discussion on a simple question -- should Virginia have a law like the federal Hatch Act that would limit the participation of public employees in partisan political campaigns? My title for the piece as submitted to Style was "Hatching Virginia?" I held the piece until after the election because I didn't want it to be seen as either partisan or personal. I wrote the piece to focus on the issue and how it should be decided in the future ... not to criticize any one candidate or any one campaign. All my care went for naught, however, because I didn't have control either of Style Weekly's choice of title for my Back Page piece or of the graphic. No one who saw either the title or the graphic for last week's Back Page would think the op-ed was anything other than a personal attack on our Governor-elect. That was neither my purpose nor intent. I hope that the Governor-elect will accept this as a public and heartfelt apology for my inexcusable naïveté in allowing this to happen. I should have known better.

Very truly yours,

Claire Guthrie Gastanaga

I'd love to hear what you think ... about the issue and the questions raised in the op-ed and about the choice of headline and whether my concern about it is well-founded.


csread said...

Great article Claire. Your point is well made, but your intention was subverted by a paper that wants to create controversy and "buzz" to sell their publication. This goes a long way in explaining the decline of traditional publications and the rise of online self-publishing like blogs where there is no filter or 3rd party agenda between the writer and their readers.

divalicias said...

Claire - You are right on this one. Career state employees should be freed from partisan politicking. It's different if they are political appointees, but if they are career employees, they should be protected from political pressure. I think the same should be true for sheriff deputies -- all of whom serve "at the pleasure of" the local sheriffs. They are required to appear in ads as directed by the sheriff and make campaign appearances with the sheriff.

Furthermore, I think locally-elected constitutional officers should be non-partisan. I really don't like the idea that my local sheriff is a GOP activist, as is the Commonwealth Attorney, the Commissioner of the Revenue, Treasurer and Clerk of the Court. One of our local GOP Supervisors failed to pay his taxes for the last five years. When this was discovered, the GOP treasurer quickly issued a statement claiming that his taxes were all paid in full. How do we really know?