BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last week, the Appleton Post Crescent suffered an editorial contretemps. The editor had received calls charging that the paper was biased against President Bush and that it never printed any letters supporting him. So it responded with an editorial that said, quote, "If you would like to help us balance things out, send a letter, make a call or punch out an email." And for that, the paper was roundly condemned in the overheated atmosphere of the internet. This week, the Post Crescent back-pedaled. Andrew Oppman is executive editor, and he concedes that the editorial was easy to misconstrue.
ANDREW OPPMAN:Well, you know, hindsight being 20/20, the, the editorial last week wasn't on point. I think we missed an opportunity to get across the point we were trying to make, and our intent was to basically say - hey - if you want to take issue with what you see, write a letter to the editor.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:What is more important for the letters segment -- to accurately reflect the community that the paper serves or to offer a wide spectrum of opinion. As you found yourself just recently, those two things aren't always the same.
ANDREW OPPMAN:Brooke, obviously the letters that we've been running to date reflect what we've received. There has not been an attempt to balance that out on to a national spectrum. You know, again, if you get back to the genesis - the first editorial - what we wrote was, you know, we're running what we receive.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So what I'm hearing is that on an ordinary day you, you don't usually contend with a flood of letters that you have to choose among to put in the letters to the editor section.
ANDREW OPPMAN:Oh, no. I mean we're a small Wisconsin newspaper; good-sized community paper, but we definitely don't have anything close to a flood. I mean I'd say about 80 to 90 percent of everything we get runs.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Wow. But do you seek to create some sense of balance? For instance, you get 10 letters say, against Bush and one letter in favor of Bush -- would you print, if you had the space, 3 letters against Bush and not the one in favor of Bush because that's a more accurate reflection or would you print the one in favor of Bush just to ensure that there is the appearance of balance in the paper?
ANDREW OPPMAN:I think in a perfect world, it'd be nice if on a given day that when we have letters on both sides of the issue, we'd attempt to run a balanced offering, but again, we haven't been doing that because the letters have been coming in, you know, fairly strong against the president.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And despite what you say was perhaps a far too explicit appeal, you still haven't gotten any letters balancing out the ones that are anti-Bush.
ANDREW OPPMAN: No. No, we haven't.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:I wonder whether part of the sensitivity comes from the state you're located in. In 2000, the presidential election was extremely close in Wisconsin. Gore edged out Bush by fewer than 6,000 votes. Do you feel like the polarization in the country is sort of focused in Appleton, Wisconsin?
ANDREW OPPMAN:I really don't. I, you know, I, I -- that's a fair question, and I suppose if I were sitting in New York I'd ask that question too. [LAUGHTER] What I think is most interesting about this, Brooke, is that the reaction we've received almost overwhelming has been from folks that don't live here. That this is a product of -God love us - our website. And I guess that's been the biggest ah-ha moment for me out of this, is that the web has created this global community and it's very, very tight-knit. It reminds me of my old home town that's, you know, by the time you got home, your mom knew what you did that day. [LAUGHTER] I know our intent was not evil, and newsrooms just aren't organized enough to have a good conspiracy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That is so true.
ANDREW OPPMAN:You know, I -- I've read "Bias," and I listen to Rush Limbaugh from time to time and everything like that, but you know in local newsrooms in Appleton, Wisconsin we get paid the same no matter who gets elected president.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Andrew Oppman, thank you very much.
ANDREW OPPMAN: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Andrew Oppman is executive editor of the Appleton Post Crescent.