When's the last time you've seen a bank tape a nasty note on its front door from a customer complaining that a clerk botched a transaction? Or a lawyer post a letter from an angry client on his Web site? Yet newspapers routinely run letters from readers pointing out that the newspaper is full of hooey.
Following the unfortunate headline on Page 1 on Monday, I got an earful from a guy on Tuesday who was understandably upset with the paper. During his rant, he declared his utter surprise that we carried letters that crucified us for running that story with that headline. I've stopped being surprised that guys like him are surprised.
Guys like him tend to think people who run newspapers are maniacal conspiracy mongers determined to shove a certain point of view down the throats of unsuspecting readers. Guys like him believe we are hellbent on protecting the institutional status quo, or else they are convinced we are out to destroy those institutions.
If we were as narrow-minded and conspiratorial as guys like him think we are, we'd never run letters that criticize us. Fact is, we prefer the great American tradition of honest debate and lively disagreement that is fundamental to a free society. And because newspapers rarely dodge contentious relevant issues, they naturally become part of the debate. We understand that the messenger often ends up with the arrow in his back, but that doesn't stop us from loading our critics' quivers.
You can disagree with your neighbor or you can disagree with us. Your neighbor might never speak to you again, but we'll run your letter.