Vasché: The Bee's political agenda: Not liberal, not conservative

06/14/2009 2:07 AM

06/14/2009 2:10 AM

Not long ago I received an e-mail ripping The Bee for, in the writer's view, "an extreme right-wing propaganda approach that is utterly irresponsible."

Our crime? Publishing letters to the editor critical of President Barack Obama's position on abortion.

"Have the decency to print reader opinions that are at least in the realm of sanity!" the e-mail concluded.

A few days earlier, I had received another note, this one offering quite a different assessment of the paper.

"You are so liberal it makes me sick to my stomach," it read. "No wonder newspapers are in trouble."

Our crime? Publishing a letter to the editor criticizing conservative Christians and others opposed to gay marriage.

"I'm not against freedom of speech," the writer said, "but you shouldn't print opinions that are unfair and hateful."

Those two comments - and others that come in e-mails, letters, phone calls or conversations in public - remind me of how differently people can view the paper, based on their own perspectives, philosophies and politics.

To some we're conservative because we do in fact publish letters from the far right; to others we're liberal because we do in fact publish letters from the far left.

To some we're conservative because we run columns by the likes of Cal Thomas and Michelle Malkin; to others we're liberal because we run columns by the likes of Leonard Pitts Jr. and Nicholas Kristof.

To some we're conservative because we've endorsed the likes of Tom and Bill Berryhill, Dave Cogdill, Jeff Denham and Arnold Schwarzenegger; to others we're liberal because we've endorsed the likes of Cathleen Galgiani, Dennis Cardoza, Jerry McNerney and Barack Obama.

To some we're conservative because we've run front pages stories on religion, including the role faith plays in the lives of Christians and other believers; to others we're liberal because we've run front page stories on gay couples and their campaign to marry.

If you want to say we're liberal, you can pick and choose the evidence to support your claim. If you want to say we're conservative, you can pick and choose the evidence to support your claim.

If, however, you decide to consider all the evidence, you might conclude that we're neither conservative nor liberal, but, like many people, somewhere in between.

As for me, I like to think of us as independent.

During my 39 years at The Bee, including the past 11 as editor, we've endorsed many a Democrat -- and many a Republican. At the local level, where offices are nonpartisan, we've endorsed liberals and conservatives alike.

That's a practice that's been a thread throughout the history of not just The Modesto Bee but of McClatchy Newspapers, our parent company.

Charles K. McClatchy, who headed the company from 1883 until his death in 1936, set that tone. The introduction to "Private Thinks by C.K.," a compilation of his editorials and columns, puts it this way:

"In politics, The Bees, under C.K. McClatchy's direction, were operated as independent newspapers. C.K. always supported the man - regardless of party - who he felt would best carry out the progressive principles of which he was a lifetime advocate."

So, to those who believe The Bee has a liberal agenda - or a conservative one - I have say, in a word, nonsense.

Our agenda is pretty straightforward:

Present news and information that is relevant, reliable, timely and useful.

Serve as the public's watchdog, monitoring government officials and agencies.

Mirror the lives of the citizens and communities we serve.

Provide a forum for public discussion of issues and ideas.

Be a leader in setting the agenda by identifying not only the problems we face but the potential solutions as well.

Give a voice to the voiceless, comfort the afflicted, and, when necessary, afflict the comfortable.

Be zealous in pursuing the truth, and in doing so be as accurate, fair and balanced as possible, and be impartial, independent and free of undue influence.

That agenda - those goals and ideals -- are neither liberal nor conservative.

Wherever you are - in politics, perspectives and personal beliefs - there's a place for you and your voice on the pages of this paper.

Vasché, The Bee's editor and senior vice president, can be reached at mvasche@modbee.com.

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