Editorial: Of satire, commentaries and the role of the paper
In a letter to the editor from the Addison County Senate campaign of Marie Audet, and in other public comments by the Paul Ralston campaign, this newspaper and one of our columnists, Greg Dennis, is being criticized for something that we did not publish.
The two campaigns accuse this paper of condoning “sexual violence” in a satirical column. The campaign used an unedited version of Greg’s column, which was mistakenly put online for about two hours. We agree that comment was offensive, which is why we cut it out in the edited version that was in print and online. Less than two dozen of our readers clicked on that unedited version, which was never in print.
If the Ralston and Audet campaigns want to complain about five words that were cut out of the column and spread that unedited version as widely as they can, readers have to wonder what their motive is.
That aside, let’s review. The satirical column as edited imagined an interview with Donald Trump with questions about the candidates in our local Senate race as well as Gov. Phil Scott. In one question, Greg asks Trump’s character: “What are your thoughts about Marie Audet, the other Independent in the race?” DT responds: “Well, I can’t say. I haven’t seen a picture of her. When it comes to women candidates I go by looks.”
That should be offensive to all readers. In that comment, Trump objectifies all women candidates based on looks rather than their skills and talents. It is something this president did during the campaign and has for the past two years. Such behavior is subject to ridicule and scorn, which is what Greg’s column did. Nor does Greg’s column “take the issue lightly,” “joke” about the issue, or “condone” such behavior as the campaigns have suggested.
On the contrary, satire can make very poignant points. The definition of satire is: “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics… Synonyms include: mockery, derision, scorn.”
Only someone who doesn’t understand what satire is would suggest that because the column uses humor, it is “joking” about the matter.
Nor were the two Independents the only targets of the column. Greg spent more than two-thirds of the column on other candidates or issues, including the two Democrats (DT said: “the two who hate America and want to ruin the nation”), the Republican and Libertarian, which the imaginary DT said: “at least you’ve got a couple sensible people running for office.” He spends almost a third of the column on Gov. Scott, and Greg has DT end on a riff about fake news and the reason he didn’t carry Vermont was because the election was rigged — all themes Trump is well known to espouse, and all of which are subject to ridicule.
Finally, the campaigns tried to tie the column to the newspaper as if we were one. Greg is one of a dozen plus columnists we routinely feature. Each represents their own points of view. We have various columnists to encourage the diversity of opinion and thought in the paper. This editorial column, signed by me, is the one voice that represents the paper as an institution, and even that does not reflect the views of those who work here. That is an industry standard and should be common knowledge.
Furthermore, in the same issue as Greg’s column, we have 14 other letters and commentaries that offered their perspectives on the political races, including my editorial, in which I single out Marie Audet’s comment about farmers and the environment in a positive light.
Greg’s column, in sum, is one of many; reflects his own opinion; and its satire was used to scorn the president’s behavior.
As a newspaper, our primary editorial (news) objective is to inform and educate and while each individual effort does not always rise to the level we aspire, collectively we’ve published more than 100 letters and commentaries on this election and devoted more than 2,000 inches of news space to the various campaigns over the past few weeks.
In that sense, I’m proud of the tremendous effort The Independent makes each week to inform the community, and the high level of professionalism in which we are consistently able to do it.