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If columnists stir up hornet's nests, they're only doing their job


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RICHARD AMRHINE
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Date published: 7/28/2002

By RICHARD AMRHINE

IGENERALLY DON'T like to respond to critical letters to the editor about the things I write because it's only fair to let people have their say after I've had mine.

I make an exception in this case because of the importance of the issue and my own desire to set the record straight.

As I said in reply to a few of the readers who sent e-mails, I deeply appreciate it when people take the time to write, whether they agree with me or not. It shows that they are reading, and that they feel strongly enough about something to respond. This is a good thing and what newspapers should be about.

There's nothing wrong with venting, or with anger. They're all a part of life. I'd rather express my feelings in a newspaper column, and have readers respond in kind, than have any of us bottle it up until we explode after being cut off by another driver on the interstate.

One writer who appreciated my column about the death of little Frances Kelly, who died after being left in her large family's van for seven hours, said it should wake people up. Not only did it do that, it stirred up a hornet's nest.

I know from experience that that the No. 1 law in opinion writing is that the people who disagree write, and the people who agree usually just nod as they read.

Another point is that after 26 years in the newspaper business, I tend to question everything. It is second nature. There are no sacred cows. Nothing and no one is beyond reproach.

If we don't ruffle some feathers, we're not doing our job. Certainly on occasion some people will think we've crossed the mental line they've drawn that separates fair comment from irresponsibility or bad taste. When that happens it's likely to spur a dialogue that I think is a healthy experience for all concerned.

But let's direct some anger at the Prince William Department of Social Services, which was told about problems at the Kelly household, but failed to act.

Let's urge the Kevin Kellys of the world to at least oblige their wives' requests to practice natural family planning.


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