Bite thy tongue

The other day as I was waiting in line for my chicken quesadilla at Two Pesos I eavesdropped on a couple having a conversation. They were talking about some guy who hurt his back at a fraternity party.

"It's scary to think that one day, you can be OK and the next you could be a veg," the guy said as he shook his head. Then the guy looked at the pile of Arizona Daily Wildcats on the counter. He picked up a copy.

"Is there anything in today's Arizona Daily Wildcrap ?" he asked.

"Nope, nothing ever is," she said. "And the comics are so bad ."

At that moment, I zoned everything out. I was mad. I wanted to turn around to the guy and say,"Look cha-cha, I work 30 hours a week on that newspaper. There are about 40 full-time students who try to balance school with producing a newspaper with a circulation of 20,000. From the sales reps to the copy editors, we work our butts off. Sure, we make grammatical mistakes, but keep in mind we're students just like yourself."

But I didn't say anything to the couple. I just waited in line, got my chicken quesadilla and went home. I didn't enjoy my quesadilla as much as I usually do.

Maybe it was cowardice that stopped me. Maybe it was maturity. As Opinions Editor, I'm the one who decides which letters to the editor run on the Perspectives Page. Lately, the Wildcat has published a lot of letters critical of the comics section, "Police Beat," movie reviews and columns. Almost all of the letters we've received have been printed. We even ran a guest column critical of "Police Beat" (and later hired the writer as a regular columnist).

Not only do we receive letters regarding content, but we also receive "Goof Cards" from Leonard Rosenthal of the Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL). Whenever we make grammatical errors, he finds them and mails us postcards listing all of our faux pas. Oh well, if that's what you do in your spare time, rock on Leonard.

It's always tempting to respond to the letters. Whenever we get critical letters, I think of responses and recite them aloud to the delight of News Editor Greg D'Avis. But we never print them. Besides being unprofessional, it would just be uncool. If you print snide comments to one letter, it may discourage ten other interesting, critical letters. You just have to acknowledge the complaint, ponder its legitimacy and move on.

On Sept. 12, I picked up a copy of Lo Que Pasa, the weekly newspaper published by UA News Services for faculty and administrators. It was not favorable to the Wildcat. Vern Lamplot, the associate director of news services, accused the Wildcat of lying in our Aug. 25 staff editorial "University gaining reputation for poor undergrad program." The point at issue is a phone call the Wildcat received from an ABC producer doing preliminary research for a report on undergraduates dissatisfied with the quality of their education. Vern accused the Wildcat of poor research and said our opinion was unsupported. Vern only attacked the ABC phone call and failed to address other substantial issues mentioned in the editorial. For instance, is the new UA research park a wise idea considering that the ASU Research Park has lost $18 million?

I wrote a response to Vern's editorial and sent it to Lo Que Pasa. I wanted to directly comment on the allegations and be done with the issue. Vern stated his position and I'd state mine. End of discussion.

Well, my letter was printed in yesterday's Lo Que Pasa, but I was shocked to see a response from Vern. A response?! Vern starts off, "It is the policy of Lo Que Pasa to give readers the last word in the Letters section. However, because the writer chooses to address me directly in the first person, I feel obligated to respond to his letter."

Huh? First of all, newspaper policy is usually set in stone so you better give a damn good reason for breaking it. Second, it seems that because the story refers to Vern by name, he feels the obligation to protect his honor. Vern, a letter is a letter. You always let the reader get the last word, no matter how foolish it may make you look.

By the way, Vern makes points like "the facts of the conversation, as reported by the Wildcat, are either incorrect or they are in dispute." No duh, if they weren't "in dispute" why would we be going back and forth like this? He still has failed to address the issues involved. I especially like that he ended his letter with "Administrators have no input, nor do they see any advance copy of this column." Hey Vern, small point who pays your salary?

Vern, rest assured that I am probably full of a whole lot more piss and vinegar than you are, but I have no desire to get into a pissing match with you. I have neither the time nor the energy to waste trying to convince you of our position. Any professional journalist will tell you that the response to my letter was just plain unprofessional and silly.

Vern, if you want to respond to this editorial, I promise your letter will be printed. And we won't print a response, even if you refer to me by my first name.

Jon Burstein is a political science and journalism senior. His columns appear every Tuesday. He has found that being full of piss and vinegar can be a rather smelly affair.

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