Some relatives of mine visiting from a small town in the Midwest picked up The Malibu Times as we were waiting to be seated at a local restaurant. We had to laugh when they asked me why anyone who’s sophisticated enough to live in Malibu would also take you seriously enough to send you a letter (I’m asking myself that question as I write this) when your only interest is, very understandably, to run a successful business.
And they’re right. You’re an educated man, and surely must be well aware that you’re running your business as a small-town miniature imitation of the “yellow journalism” method Joseph Pulitzer and John Cockerill used about a century ago to rake in enormous amounts of money in St. Louis. (It’s a romantic story, although people sometimes forget that both of those men always carried guns out of fear of retaliation from the people whose lives their business destroyed on a regular basis. Cockerill was even almost killed once, but he beat his assailant to the draw.)
Anyway. Clearly, as the smart businessman that you are, your paper is a form of entertainment where you conjure up “controversy” by any means you can imagine. By this method, you’ll most likely be in business for many years because the “opinions” (sales campaigns, really) that support your intention to increase advertising sales provoke people to read responses to responses, responses to attacks, attempts to correct facts, expressions of anger, and so on.
Unfortunately, for I want very much to respect you and give you the benefit of any doubt, this leaves me with the very strong impression that exaggeration, incomplete information, sarcasm, cruelty, insults, finger-pointing and false statements are not beneath you.
I also think it’s very likely that, if it’s successful, you’ll stick to your current business strategy for years. Which means it’s inevitable that, in the future, no matter who works in City Hall, no matter who is elected to the City Council, no matter who is appointed to city commissions, you will always require a target of attack. One-time disasters and PCH road conditions aren’t likely to command as much ongoing attention as will the ordinary years-long city management efforts you’d continue to portray as blazing controversies.
Perhaps you have some interest in the further impression this has made on one of your readers. It seems to me that you are either teetering on going out of business, and will do anything to survive, or you’re very greedy.
Perhaps you have some interest in what one of your readers would prefer. I’m no longer interested in hearing about who you don’t like and how the world isn’t going out of its way to please you. What I would like is for you to state –frequently, explicitly and honestly — what you’re for.
I know you know it’s easy to stand to one side and ridicule. I think you studied law. If so, you were probably, at some point, exposed to the rhetorical term for this: “argumentum ad hominum.” To use this device in the “opinion” column of a publication over which you have complete control strikes me as — well, I don’t think there’s a single word for it. I’d say the sense, the impression, it gives is a combination of cruel, cowardly, uncreative, shortsighted, powerless, destructive. . . . That’s pretty close .
I know you also know that it’s far more difficult, and much more honorable, to take a clear position and rationally defend it. People who can do this without attacking others personally are often described as classy. I can’t say I’ve ever seen you do this, however. I’d like to. And I hope to see it in the future. I truly believe you’ve got what it takes. But I don’t remember seeing it.
In spite of all I’ve said, I still wonder where we’d be if you do find the courage to declare something you are for and stand by it until persuaded that another position is better (hopefully for human life, rather than just your life). Because the level of integrity I’ve come to expect from you also leaves me very uncertain about your honesty.
Will you please demonstrate that my impressions of you are wrong? What are you for, Mr. York?
P.S. A quick comment regarding your remarks about the Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park, where I live. I want to let you know that I very much agree with some of what you say! It may not be true of the home of my intelligent, hard-working, courageous neighbor Jo Ruggles (she used to risk her life every day as a public servant), but I am very unhappy to have realized after moving here that I ended up with a “tin can” (yes, it’s a figure of speech) in the lower section of Paradise Cove. But that’s another story.