Truly, our opinion

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Of the many roles a newspaper plays, one considered to be central to its mission is its opinion pages. The Southeast Missourian strives to give its readers access to ideas and arguments from every possible spectrum regarding issues of local interest, as well as many topics of state, national and international relevance.

For many readers, their participation in the Southeast Missourian's opinion pages is simply reading them. Others voice their views in letters to the editor or through Speak Out comments. Some write thoughtful guest columns.

The newspaper's aim is always to give as much leeway as possible to those who want to express their views. Sometimes those opinions mirror the newspaper's. Often they do not.

Gerald Jones, Cape Girardeau County presiding commissioner, submitted a guest column last month pointing out what he considered to be deficiencies in the performance of Jay Purcell, 2nd District commissioner and candidate for presiding commissioner. That guest column urged county voters and taxpayers to hold Purcell accountable.

When Purcell responded last week with a guest column of his own, he chose -- prudently, in our opinion -- not to attack Jones' performance. But he also chose not to respond to the issues Jones raised. This could be because 1) Purcell had no good defense to offer or because 2) Jones' accusations were accurate.

Instead, Purcell chose to further his campaign theme of bucking what he calls the Good Old Boy system and the role he contends this newspaper plays in that system.

This gets to the very heart of the Southeast Missourian's opinion-page policies. Aside from the "Our opinion" editorial on the Opinion page each day and occasional columns by members of the newspaper staff, the opinion pages are filled with the thoughts and ideas of our readers, syndicated columnists, guest columnists and editorial cartoonists.

For Purcell to insinuate that the Southeast Missourian is in cahoots with Gerald Jones, the Good Old Boys or anyone else is not only ludicrous, it is completely unsubstantiated. In the three years Purcell has been a county commissioner, he has submitted five letters or guest columns, including his response to Jones -- all of which were published. In that same period, Jones has submitted one.

It would be difficult to believe that Jones found the Southeast Missourian's reporting in 2008 of statements he made while being secretly taped by Purcell during a trip to Jefferson City were flattering in any regard. Yet Purcell continues his effort to link this newspaper and Jones as some sort of all-powerful cabal against which Purcell, like Don Quixote, must fight. That may garner the sympathy of some voters, but surely most will see through these factless claims.

Purcell's notions of favoritism and behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the Southeast Missourian to thwart his political ambitions are, simply put, false. The editorial board of this newspaper does not shrink from the fact that its members regard Jay Purcell as unfit to be presiding commissioner of Cape Girardeau County. We may editorialize about him and write columns about him. But we will not treat him -- nor will we -- anything but fairly and openly in an effort to uphold our firm belief that the opinion pages belong to our readers.

CORRECTION: An editorial in Sunday's Southeast Missourian incorrectly stated that Jay Purcell had been a county commissioner for three years. He was elected as 2nd District commissioner in 2004 and re-elected in 2008.

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