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.