Those angry readers

Author: Kerry Temple ’74

“Dear Editor,” the note began, “after reading ‘Bush Country’ in which R. Bruce Dold spent several pages licking George Bush’s shoes, I have lost all respect for your magazine. Please cancel my subscription.”

“Please cancel my subscription,” said the second. “I cannot recall perusing such a steady diet of trivia in the face of the criminal behavior of our country in the slaughter of Iraq.”

“Now that Notre Dame has joined the ranks of Christian Fundamentalism,” read the third, “I prefer not to be associated any longer.”

Canceling a “subscription” seems like an extreme reaction to me, especially when based on a single article and when the publication is free. But it happens. We lost a few readers awhile back when we carried a faculty member’s critique of the Bush administration’s preemptive strike against Iraq; now we’ve lost a few more because of a piece defending Bush’s re-election. People take their politics and religion seriously, and we offer some serious analysis on important issues.

I’m always disappointed when someone turns a back on the magazine. I think of all the good stuff they’ll miss because they got peeved about something someone wrote. I also question what it says about what they’ve taken from this place—the value of education, learning, dialogue, the give and take of intellectual inquiry and adherence to moral principles. This is not easy terrain to cross while keeping 150,000 readers in lockstep. Nor would we want to.

Sometimes people are mad because “both sides” are not found in the same issue. Sometimes both are. Not long ago we ran four pieces on the Iraq war, all by Notre Dame people—two by military personnel, one by a priest and peace activist, and one by the survivor of the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. Before that we held off publishing a piece on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for more than a year until we had a counterpoint to it. But mainly we think balance can be found over time. In between those articles on the Bush preemptive strike strategy and the Bush election piece (and after we carried the four views on one war), we ran a story by an alumnus proud of his son’s military service but opposed to his being in Iraq.

We like to think we offer space to competing voices and are disappointed when people choose to stop listening.

In many ways, the magazine is a reflection of the University. There is room for disagreement, even heated disagreement, but also an understanding of the importance of that conversation and the principles, values, truths and beliefs that deserve a committed and well-reasoned airing.

On many issues there is no single official University position; it would, in fact, seem odd, even disheartening, to find unanimity on a college campus. So people will be disappointed who write asking, “Is this how the University feels?” The views expressed on these pages, again, reflect the educational enterprise. We bring together members of the Notre Dame family, invite into the discussion some “guest speakers” and “visiting faculty,” and live with the rustle, bang and pulse of a Catholic institution engaged in the wider world and trying to figure out how to make a difference there. No reason to foreclose on that.