Barring a change of heart on someone else's part, this is my last column for the Knoxville News-Sentinel. Here's what I know about the reasons why. On Monday, Editor Jack McElroy informed me he would be cutting my column to once every other week. On Tuesday I let him know I could not go along. It would mean letting too many people down, and waiting for the other shoe to drop, along with readership, would compromise my independence. So ends a 21-year association.
I won't defend my record. Fan mail, awards and readership polls speak for themselves. My column draws more readers than most, as I can prove. This isn't about quality or popularity.
Jack said he was trimming my sails because I don't write enough on local issues. Some readers might remember this notion came up in 2004, after I wrote a series of columns opposed to the re-selection of George W. Bush, whom this paper endorsed. Shortly afterward, Jack asked me to begin writing about local issues.
In a widely read column that ran Feb. 4, 2005, I tried to put a smiley face on this development. Naively, I didn't regard it as an attempt to "muzzle" me. I promised readers that, "should the time come that I can no longer go along with Jack's request, I'll recognize it and act according to my conscience."
I believed then that going along would be easy. Most local issues worth writing about are tied to Washington. Our quality of air and water, the well-being of our soldiers, the role of Oak Ridge and TVA in nuclear weapons technology, healthcare of the disadvantaged, rights of people with alternative lifestyles, integrity of our elections, separation of church and state, health of public lands and much more around here are affected by national policies. I've tried to cite such local angles in about three-fourths of my articles since 2005. Even when I didn't say so explicitly, I believe these issues were implicit, especially in columns my critics write off as "Bush bashing."
Those are at the heart of my predicament, I believe. In 2001, months before 9/11, as Bush was rolling back environmental regulations, holding secret meetings with energy, religious and military strategists, busily appointing foxes to guard all the henhouses where treasured eggs are stored, I thought it should be obvious to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear that George W. Bush was a disaster for our world, our country, our communities. As I've written in several columns over the years, had Bush set out with a goal of destroying the world, he could hardly have done worse than he's done. Sadly, history bears me out.
Name an issue I've been very wrong on. Name a prediction I didn't nail since 2001. The list of things I got right is a long one, and I'll put my record up against any columnist in the country, liberal or conservative. Loss of civil liberties, outright torture, electoral malfeasance, war-profiteering, use of depleted uranium, banned weapons, strip-mining, species decline, media manipulation, broken treaties, soaring deficits, efforts to hide the truth about global warming, Dick Cheney's many conflicts of interest, and the sad decline of our nation's reputation have been borne out by clouds of witnesses.
To downplay such disasters the way most media do is akin to complicity in the Holocaust, for the destruction of this good earth is an ongoing holocaust in which millions of people and fellow creatures suffer and die. History proves the silence of good people makes a culture complicit in its own destruction. So I leave you with a question that courageous women and men from ages past have asked:
What then must we do?
To obscure America's fingerprint on global warming, the death of maybe a million people in the Middle East, the creation of millions of refugees, the maiming of millions more, the possibility of a trumped up war with Iran, is simply wrong. I won't be a party to it. I often wonder how Bush apologists sleep at night. That's a problem I'll never have.
In keeping with the promise I made in that Feb. 4, 2005, column, I'm ending my News-Sentinel career rather than "go along" this time around. Pardon me if I don't get all teary-eyed. This is not a time for making nice, it's a time for taking stands. I'll sail my opinion out on the Internet. I'll write for other publications. I'll finish books. If you'd like to come along for the ride, get in touch.
Finally, I've loved writing a weekly column these 21 years, mostly from home the past 11, and I'm letting go with no bitterness and little regret. Rather, I feel the way I've come to feel when my name's held up to ridicule on the Letters Page. Why, looky here, Mama, I made the honor roll.