Labeling paper's staff unpatriotic is a rush to judgment

June 20, 2005|by LINDA DUFFIELD

On a recent episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," an assistant district attorney took a stab at prosecuting the Pentagon over the mandatory use of an anti-malarial drug despite its known negative side effects.

Without going into detail, I'll tell you that while ADA Casey Novak prepared to embark on her ultimately ill-fated crusade, District Attorney Arthur Branch suggested that building such a case could brand her as anti-military in the public eye.

A visibly angry Novak informed her boss that she was from a military family, that her father had been a crew member on a helicopter in Vietnam and had been shot down twice. She was, she said, doing what she was doing for all the men and women serving in the military.

That's just a television show, an hour of entertainment. But it's also food for thought because it demonstrates how quick we can be to decide who is patriotic or a good American and who isn't.


Let me give you an example.

I'll preface this by saying that criticism is nothing new to us in The Herald-Mail newsroom. For the most part, it is fair and constructive, attacking not the reporters and editors personally, but taking us to task for decisions we have made about coverage or some other aspect of the job.

For instance, we received e-mails criticizing the extent of our Memorial Day coverage, despite the fact that we covered nine Memorial Day events over the holiday weekend, wrote that many stories and ran photos.

Bottom line: We gave Memorial Day coverage our best shot. But if some of our readers thought we didn't do enough, it's their right to hold that opinion.

We also received a few e-mails criticizing the scarcity of our coverage of the D-Day anniversary. Fair enough.

One e-mail, however, asked if we had no shame or were just unpatriotic to have done so little to commemorate such a major event.

That, I can tell you, is a rush to judgment.

Many in the newsroom, myself included, have family members who served in the military and who fought for their country in various wars, including World War II.

It's fair game to question and/or criticize our coverage, our priorities or our choices. In fact, we welcome such criticism because it can help make us a better paper.

However, I think it is out of line to question our patriotism.

Having said that, I'll go a step further.

It's also my opinion that it is a mistake to judge anybody's patriotism based on his or her feelings about something this country's leaders do.

For instance, it is not unpatriotic to oppose the war in Iraq.

It is not unpatriotic to question the ramifications of the Patriot Act.

It is not unpatriotic to wonder what really is going on at Guantanamo.

It is not unpatriotic to disagree with the actions of this president or any president, past or future, or the actions of Congress.

It is our right and, moreover, our patriotic duty as Americans to speak out when we disagree with what our government does in our name.

Part of what makes this country great is the right to dissent. If that right is stifled, if we must fear we will be arrested, fired, blacklisted or considered un-American because we disagree with certain actions, then this country no longer is the land of the free.

And that turn of events would be about as un-American as anything I could imagine.

Linda Duffield is associate editor of The Herald-Mail. She may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7591, or by e-mail at

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