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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Taking on a critic

by Mike Masterson | November 13, 2021 at 3:50 a.m.


A Bella Vista resident, who described himself several days back in a letter posted on this page as a boomer white male Christian, called me the "whitest white man practicing journalism in this state."

His underlying message was apparently meant to indicate I didn't understand the plight of minorities and the disadvantaged. He was partly correct.

Yes, I was born an Anglo Saxon. And, indeed, I have practiced journalism across Arkansas (and elsewhere) over the decades. Yet I couldn't agree with or overlook his uninformed personal slur about my life and career.

Isn't his reference to me as the whitest white journalist in Arkansas the same as not-so-subtly calling me the far left's favorite slur du jour nowadays: racist?

This letter for me represents a sterling example of those across today's deeply troubled America who eagerly pass judgments on others based either upon zero facts, or through mean-spirited slurs twisted to fit a self-seeking partisan agenda.

Had I been able to communicate with this man before he assailed my alleged obsession with "whiteness," I could have enlightened him on some circumstances surrounding his demonization of my life and 50-year career.

For instance, I might have informed him of the two months I spent, as editor of the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, unearthing facts that ultimately freed Shelby Barron, a concrete mason from Hot Springs who had been wrongly charged with rape and robbery.

There was also an expose on how streets in the Black residential section of Hot Springs had never been paved; afterwards they finally were.

I also might have discussed my time heading investigative projects for the Chicago Sun-Times that disclosed (in the face of smears and threats) that police precincts there surpassed the combined totals of Los Angeles and New York in the number of supposed suicides of young men charged with misdemeanors.

Those revelations and the resultant investigation into why that was, as well as the suspicious nature of those deaths, led to significant reforms in Chicago's Police Department that benefited minorities.

The Bella Vista man might (or might not at that point) also have wanted to learn about Marvin Williams, the Army veteran beaten to death in the Faulkner County jail by white officers. Those stories led to first-degree-murder indictments against the two former Conway policemen.

Then there were relevant facts uncovered about a 17-year-old youth, during my time as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, whose death at the hands of an older youth led to a homicide conviction after the prosecutor had initially closed that case.

There was the story about an older, terrified homeless man named Willy who was chased down and needlessly shot to death by several Little Rock police as he became pinned against a wall where he displayed a penknife with a two-inch blade to try and defend himself.

It might have proven informative to the Bella Vista critic to know of the year I spent investigating unreported deaths in America's city lockups and county jails that prompted a national law requiring they be reported to the U.S. Justice Department.

How could I possibly forget the blind grandmother, Willie Mae Harris, who was freed from prison for time served after 30 years behind bars after columns informing the state of her tragic story and travails?

At the Arizona Republic, I worked with my investigative team to expose the shocking frauds and betrayals that had been perpetrated by our government on Native Americans over the decades and how mentally handicapped females with the Navajo Nation had been routinely injected without their consent with an unapproved contraceptive known to cause cancer in lab animals.

Yada, yada. I mention these chapters of my life in journalism to let the letter-writer and my readers know that those affected by these stories also were people of color.

There have been other similar stories over 50 years that I'll not further bore you by sharing.

For me, the color of a person's skin or their station in life never mattered, as I was simply trying to reveal and circulate deeper truths about each case, hoping the facts proved powerful enough to either set them free or obtain justice in their deaths.

For me, tackling these stories despite pushback, threats and criticism from those who regularly peppered me with racist insults was simply part of my responsibility as a journalist.

Before you misunderstand my reason for writing today, valued readers, it's relevant that you understand that I long ago became accustomed to being demonized by strangers for much of the work to which I routinely attach my name.

I just vastly prefer it when the personal smears aimed at me are rooted in the truth.

So in that regard, the uninformed writer from Bella Vista was nothing new.

Such an accuse-and-vilify approach to co-existence sadly has become part of today's increasingly irrational and hate-filled society where anyone who disagrees with a radical ideology is labeled a racist.

In doing so, we've accepted a world where truth takes a back seat to raw emotion, misguided assumptions, political positioning and inaccuracies (many, I suspect, calculated).

Today I also find myself increasingly disappointed in many of my mainstream colleagues on a national level and my chosen profession as a whole for failing to remain objective, relevant and insightful in what they provide to those who turn to them for truth, fairness and accuracy.

I honestly don't care that much that there are those who prefer thoughtlessly smearing me out of false impressions or disagreement with my thoughts.

After all, differences of opinion are part of the process when one regularly puts themselves out there for a living.

However, criticisms carry credibility only when they are rooted in truth and accuracy.

Come on, man ...

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.


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