In the end, Bruce Plopper of Conway said he was joking. Sort of.
Plopper is a former journalism professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. His opinion letter on June 6 astonished us. He called it an editorial. When pressed on its cruder points, he said it was actually satire, and that he was disappointed that we didn't understand the humor.
Titled "Celebrating killing," Plopper's letter said that murdering unarmed animals is the product of a "genetic mutation."
From an evolutionary standpoint, that is false. Hunting is an example of evolutionary specialization and adaptation. Ancient petroglyphs and cave paintings -- the original "Field & Stream" -- depict hunters "celebrating" their hunting trophies back to the dawn of humanity.
Plopper also wrote that "celebrating" such killings and covering hunting in the media reflect "either a severe sickness or a need to overcome feelings of inferiority."
The media should not cover hunting and hunters, Plopper said in an interview, but he magnanimously concedes us the authority to cover the government agency that regulates hunting. Our conversation did not extend that far, but it's reasonable to conclude that Plopper's opinion extends to fishing as well.
The fact that hunting and fishing are constitutional rights in Arkansas, and that they are supported by dedicated state and federal funding, does not qualify hunters and anglers to be represented in the state's journal of record, Plopper said. The fact that this newspaper has covered this "beat" for at least 50 years is immaterial as well, he added.
Instead, Plopper said the Outdoors section should be dedicated to covering human vs. human contests.
About 10% of our state's population hunts and fishes. Plopper was surprised to learn that hunters eat what they kill. Regardless, Plopper said that retail food availability invalidates obtaining food from the wild.
Professor Plopper is the last person we expect to advocate censorship, but he insisted that censorship is strictly a government function. Voluntarily omitting coverage of hunting and fishing, he said, is "editing."
As they would say over at the Bowen School of Law, that is a distinction without a difference. When a majority uses its collective weight to silence a minority and to intimidate and coerce the media to "edit" a minority out of the public record, it looks, smells and tastes like censorship. The contemporary term for Plopper's definition is "canceling."
"As a private enterprise, the Democrat-Gazette sports editors can make the decision not to cover certain things, like 7- and 8-year-olds killing defenseless animals," Plopper said. "You and I have different viewpoints, obviously, but of course, mine is correct."
Continuously, Plopper accentuated the point that hunters comprise only about 5% of the population.
"The norm is not for people to hunt," Plopper said.
By Plopper's own definition, hunters are a cultural minority. By the same definition, hunting is an alternative lifestyle. It has its own ethical code and even its own legal code. It has its own vernacular, its own doctrines and dogmas, and its own distinct genre of art, literature and, yes, journalism.
Journalism historically respects minorities, champions minority rights and advocates tolerance, sensitivity and inclusion for minorities. Plopper found that argument inconvenient.
"That's not an interpretation that would stand up to ... it's not close to ... it's difficult to have a meaningful conversation when you've got some errors of concept," Plopper said. "It's not against the people [who hunt]. It's a criticism of the coverage."
That statement contradicts the last line of Plopper's editorial in which he recommended that, instead of photos and articles about hunting, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette should instead publish "contact information for mental health facilities that specialize in curing the mutants who kill defenseless creatures in the name of sport."
Again, Plopper insisted that a behavior practiced by only 5% of the population is deviant.
A statistic requires context. If the world's population is about 8 billion, that's 400 million people.
"Numbers like that don't really mean anything," Plopper said.
In journalism school, we were taught to personify numbers. In the past few weeks, we featured successful turkey hunts by Chris Minick of Benton, Tristan Sitzes of Benton, Ella Anderson of Russellville, and federal magistrate judge Joe Volpe of Little Rock. We also published two turkey hunting photos of Randy Mounce of Farmington. We asked Plopper, who also has a master's degree in psychology, if he was willing to say on record that all of those people are mentally ill.
That is when Plopper decided his editorial was actually satire.
Satire is hard and should not be attempted by amateurs, but we'd like to have a go at it, too. How about this? Any angler who sends us a photo "celebrating" a bass caught on a Whopper Plopper goes to the front of the line for Sportsman of the Week.