One of my favorite stories is of a rabbinical scholar whose students believe they have him trapped in an intellectual crossfire.
The rabbi asked of his students to explain a matter of consequence. The first student replied with a great answer, and the scholar said to him, ‘You are absolutely right.’
The second student gave an entirely contradictory explanation, but the rabbi replied, ‘You are absolutely right.’
Now the third student thought he had the rabbi by the short hairs. He looked up and said, ‘But rabbi, that can’t be. Each student gave a contradictory answer, but you said to each of them, ‘you are right.’
The rabbi looked down, tugging on the whiskers of his gray beard, and said to his young ward, “You know what, son, you are right too.”
In the past few weeks, SFGN has apparently created a controversy over a legitimate issue, which is something newspapers ought to do. The debate has been over the proposed development of an LGBT senior housing project, and one of our columnists, Sal Torre, threw the first volley.
In a column, a few weeks ago, he accused Robert Boo, the CEO of the Pride Center, and his ‘self-appointed’ board, as if that is a bad thing, of doing business ‘in the closet.’ You can look at Sal’s piece two ways. He was either pointedly repetitive or unnecessarily redundant.
In the space of one column and a thousand words, he accused the Center and its CEO no less than four times of ‘sugar coating’ the truth, insisting that they ‘come clean,’ thus essentially saying they are ‘dirty.’ Sal went on to say that Boo has been ‘masking the project.’
Sal may have some very legitimate criticisms, but Robert Boo certainly did not think so. He took to the pages of SFGN, and no shrinking violet is he. The Pride Center’s CEO ripped the paper for publishing ‘Fake News,’ but more importantly than the titillating title, he systematically used 2,000 words to shred Sal’s argument into little pieces.
Pointing out that Sal’s best source was a guy named ‘Rumor has it,’ Boo methodically stated his fundamental position, that the “residences at Equality Park will be affordable housing for senior adults, with a special focus on LGBTQ individuals.’
Therein lies the merits of the controversy. But here is the thing. That isn’t what set Boo off.
What really pissed off Boo was the charge and accusation that the Pride Center had somehow covered this affair up. In his column, he pointed out that a plethora of articles had appeared in a host of publications since 2012 discussing the plans for this project, and that they hardly have been secretive about it. Their argument is they have been open and transparent, and he laid out their claim. Wisely, he noted that no matter what he does, ‘we can never communicate enough.’ He is right, and that is what a community newspaper is for – to give people a forum, a voice, a platform. He got one and so did Sal.
Sal Torre used that platform to criticize the center. He is right, too. He has a column which has a right to be critical, raise questions, demand answers, and challenge the status quo. You don’t have to like it. We don’t sit over his opinions, his editorial observations, or his views. You empower someone to write, and write thoughtfully about matters of consequence. An LGBT housing facility on the Pride Center grounds is such a matter, worthy of continued discussion, honest debate, and credible dissent.
Ultimately, it does not matter if Sal was right and Boo was wrong, or Boo was right and Sal was wrong. What matters to me is that you got to read two countering views, intelligently spoken, rationally debated, and legitimately raised. Somewhere in the Scriptures, Matthew, I think, is a passage about ‘comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable.’ That is what a newspaper does.
A newspaper has to question power, position, and prestige. It has to open wounds and print stories about the sores. You write about the train that crashes, not the 99 that reach the station safely. Not every story will be perfect, and not every ending will make you feel good. But if it makes you feel and think and want to make a difference, we will be doing our job.
You are fortunate to live in a community that has a pride center with a dedicated CEO motivated by conscience and commitment. You are fortunate to have a community newspaper open and receptive to controversy and criticism, willing to tread on calm waters. We are lucky that we have columnists who are critical, editors that are thorough, and leaders who are thoughtful.
Let the discussion go forward, emphasizing principles and policies, not personalities and petty nuances that something is ‘fake news’ because you find an opinion offensive. Opinions, the First Amendment, they were not built for you to agree with. They are there for you to challenge.
We are all right. Ask my rabbi. He will agree.