While I fully believe that all individuals are entitled to their own opinions, when you are given a newspaper column with which to disseminate those opinions to the reading public, I feel you owe it to your readers to do a little research beforehand to make sure that you aren't writing something that is a complete falsehood.
Take for instance the column by Newton County resident Nat Harwell, "A question of moral turpitude" that ran in The News on May 18. There were so many errors in logic and misrepresentations of U.S. law and public opinion that I felt compelled to set the record straight.
In his column, Mr. Harwell states that "the vast and overwhelming majority of American society considers heterosexual behavior the norm." While it is true that the large majority of Americans do identify as heterosexuals, to assume from that, that all heterosexuals consider homosexuality to be immoral or weird would be incorrect.
According to Public Agenda, a nonpartisan opinion research organization, about half of Americans surveyed today believe that homosexuality should be considered "an acceptable alternative lifestyle," compared to only one in three people 20 years ago.
A far cry from "the vast and overwhelming majority of American society" don't you think Mr. Harwell?
Mr. Harwell also shared a memory from his childhood about the town's local gay bachelor and how all parents admonished their children to stay away from him and to run for help if he ever came up to them.
My interpretation of that comment is that Mr. Harwell is implying all homosexuals are child molesters, which is grossly misrepresentative and more than a bit incendiary. That comparison is just as ludicrous as someone saying that all Southerners are uneducated.
Mr. Harwell, you asked if any candidate for Georgia office has ever been openly homosexual? In answer to your question, in addition to a handful of locally elected officials, living largely in the Metro Atlanta area, there are also four openly-gay candidates running for seats in the Georgia General Assembly this year. One of them, according to Southern Voice, is State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) who is running unopposed for a fifth term.
Mr. Harwell, you also wondered whether openly-gay candidates should be-barred from seeking office due to crimes of "moral turpitude." Again, Mr. Harwell, you are allowing your personal convictions to cloud your writing. A 2003 Supreme Court decision struck down all state sodomy laws, which criminalized homosexual sex. Georgia's own sodomy law was overturned in 1998, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Clearly the courts have already ruled that an individual's sexuality is not a factor in his or her ability to run for office. As someone who has "learned at least a little something in my 57 years as an American Citizen and as a Georgian," it would be great if you would spend a little more time studying the laws that govern this great country of ours.
I cite these examples not out of a passion for gay rights (although you can read between the lines where I stand on the issues) but out of a strong desire for our readers to be presented with the most factual information available so that they can make educated decisions when it comes time to exercise their constitutional rights at the ballot box.
Whether you are a reporter or a columnist, you have a duty to be as conscientious as possible in your writing so that you do not allow the convictions of personal opinion to overpower the two core tenants of journalism: to seek truth and report it and to minimize harm.
Rachel Oswald is a reporter for The Covington News. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org