Column: I hate making mistakes

Jul. 28, 2013 @ 01:52 AM

Boy, I sure messed that up.

I had a column for today addressing a reader’s question: “Why don’t you have anything nice to say about the governor?” The reader who called our publisher last week to ask that was someone who knew Gov. Pat McCrory personally and felt that the tide of editorials and opinion columns mentioning him were overwhelmingly negative and didn’t reflect the person she knows. She wanted some balance.

The column explained that McCrory's getting little positive press on the opinion page of the News-Topic, whether from local editorials or the editorials and columns we publish from other sources, was entirely a function of what opinion pages do and what has dominated the first seven months of McCrory’s tenure, which was a General Assembly with a Republican supermajority.

But then I blew the whole argument up with a colossally stupid mistake.

As with so many mistakes nowadays, this one began with Facebook.

On Friday morning, as the General Assembly began its final steps toward adjournment, a friend on Facebook recirculated a link to a Charlotte Observer story about McCrory giving the members of his cabinet really big raises. Coming at the end of a General Assembly session that saw no pay raises for state employees, the end of tenure for teachers, impending layoffs of teachers’ assistants, larger class sizes (meaning more work for teachers) and other cuts throughout the budget, this came as a giant softball across the center of the plate for an editorial. It was an easy one to write. Who wouldn’t feel outrage over that?

The only problem was I didn’t notice that the story was from January.

It should have occurred to me at some point that the timing was so incredibly stupid that it had to be an older story.

The stupidity instead was mine.

Actually it did occur to me at a point that the story had to be old. That point, unfortunately, was while I was in bed around 6:15 a.m. Saturday. Then, some little pea-sized part of my brain said, “Hmm. That doesn’t make sense.”

So I have to admit: I was pretty quick to believe McCrory could be just that dumb. From there, it’s not hard to infer that I was not as neutral approaching the governor as I had led myself to believe.

The topic still would have been the subject for an editorial; after all, the budget adopted last week made cuts by more than a half billion dollars and will result in thousands of layoffs, which makes those January pay raises and McCrory’s statement about his secretaries making “at least enough to be able to afford to live” stand out all the more.

But my error blew up the entire thing.

And it blew up a big chunk of today’s column.

What I had written was that I’ve never heard a negative thing about McCrory as a person, husband, father, neighbor, supervisor or co-worker.

He seems like a generally sunny, positive individual, as those who achieve public office tend to be.

I met McCrory briefly when he came to Lenoir for the ceremonial groundbreaking on Google’s most recent expansion. I will say with no hesitation that he seems like a genuinely likeable guy. Were we to meet informally on someone’s back deck, drinking beer and just talking sports and guy talk, we’d probably get along just fine.

The editorials we have run about legislation passed this year have not been all negative – most recently, an editorial from the Winston-Salem Journal that we ran on Friday praised the legislature, and the Senate and House leaders by name, for succeeding where their Democratic predecessors had been all talk and no action on providing a small measure of compensation for surviving victims of the state’s decades-long, brutal and immoral forced-sterilization program.

McCrory and the Republican leadership also have routinely won praise in columns we have run by writers for the John Locke Foundation and the Civitas Institute. (We run those columnists on Wednesdays and Fridays; on Tuesdays and Thursdays we run the left-leaning columnists; on Saturdays we have a column from publisher Terese Almquist; and on Sundays we have a column either from me or from someone taking a moderate or non-partisan stance.)

One of the things I had originally written for today’s column and that remains true is that one of the main reasons more editorials and columns criticize than praise is that people who write opinions are far more likely to react strongly to changes with which they disagree than ones with which they agree.

That was the case when Democrats such as Liston Ramsey, Marc Basnight and Jim Black ran the General Assembly. And former Govs. Mike Easley and Bev Perdue likely do not get the warm fuzzies when thinking about how the state’s editorial writers and opinion columnists treated their administrations.

Now that the 2013 session of the General Assembly has adjourned, I expect you’ll see the editorials – our own as well as guest editorials from other publications – and opinion columns shifting their focus.

The governor does not adjourn, however, so he probably will keep popping up.

And I’m going to have to do a better job of self-monitoring to be sure I don’t leap too eagerly to a wrong conclusion.