A Response to the Reader Who Made Me the Angriest I’ve Ever Been

freedom of expression

“I hate rude behavior in a man. Won’t tolerate it.” ~ Capt. Woodrow F. Call in Lonesome Dove

Most who read my work, know that while I’m opinionated, I’m about the easiest going guy in the world.

I’m also a professional. I’ve been paid to write my entire life, have 170 collegiate hours, two degrees and have published articles in two professional journals on the topic of communications law and ethics. And as a professional I have a VERY thick skin.

My work is out there for public consumption. I put it out there every day, and with that, comes any reader’s right to make fair comment and criticism. I welcome your critique, in fact. Make a claim I’ve failed to be objective. Say I’m in error some way. I’m okay with that. I’m here to defend my work, and if you prove me wrong, I’ll acknowledge it and do the right thing.

But there’s one thing you don’t do to me, or to any other person in this profession if I’m around.

You don’t question my RIGHT to freely express an opinion or publish an objective article. You want to fight? Just question that right, and we can stand toe to toe until the last man stands.

At 4:30 a.m. today (August 23, 2012), I made an objective post resulting from an interview I did with Rev. Jesse Jackson. Jackson was in my hometown yesterday leading a peaceful demonstration about the circumstances in which a young man committed suicide in the back of a patrol car. You may view that post here: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-C6

Jesse Jackson is a lightning rod, especially here in the South. People love him, or hate him, and it’s all totally beside the point. When it comes to free speech, Jackson has a right to do what he damn well pleases, and so do I.

Following my typical pattern for a worthy story, I reposted during lunch for the benefit of those who might have missed it in the early morning.

And moments later, a reader publicly posts on Facebook: “…no need to keep stirring this mess up,  Steve.”

He sucker punched me.

I turned red, and actually felt my body twitching. My blood boiled. Them’s fightin’ words.

It’s the one thing you don’t say to me. This mess, dear reader, is one of the critical issues of our time, and it’s now in my backyard, and in yours. Bury your head in the ground. It won’t solve the problem. It won’t go away.

It would have been so much better if you had just questioned the legitimacy of the story. We could have enjoyed a civil debate, as men should, and likely, would have come to terms to simply agree to disagree. But rather, you questioned my very right to freely express. We live in America, do we not?

FYI, critical reader, the messy post to which you refer, was read by more than 200 people on five continents, and was Google-searched internationally more than 30 times. I can make a case it had some redeeming value.

But the mess isn’t the issue here, sir. Forget the “messy” content that makes you so uneasy. (Though I guess you’re right in some regard: It would have been so much better if Woodward and Bernstein had avoided that whole Watergate thing altogether. It was SOOO messy.)

Step back, critical reader, take a breath, and remember that thing we call the First Amendment. I believe it has something to say about a thing we call freedom of expression.

And so I’ll express what I damn well please.

If it makes you uncomfortable, I’m glad. Black people and white people are at odds in this town for no good reason. I hope it makes us all squirm.



13 thoughts on “A Response to the Reader Who Made Me the Angriest I’ve Ever Been

  1. I feel your pain Steve. I’ve had friendships go bad because of different opinions.Have you thought, though, that just as you have don’t want others to question your right to speak, can you in good conscience tell them what they can or cannot say? Doesn’t the First Amendment protect their right to speak just as it protects your right?

    As a friend, let me suggest that you shake this off and chalk it up to knowing that people who don’t agree with you are reading your stuff. That is pretty cool if you think about it.

    • Yes, I believe it absolutely does protect their right. My point, (perhaps not clearly expressed) is that any debate should be over the worthiness of the topic, in and of itself. Not the right we are all granted to expression. Had the reader questioned the legitimacy of the story, all would have been fine. A civil debate could have ensued, and we might have agreed to disagree. I will never agree with the reader’s notion about “spreading a mess.” Earlier this morning, I attempted to edit the piece to make it a bit more clear. It’s NEVER good to publish when you’re angry, but I really don’t regret my response. FYI as background, this guy did the same thing once before, and it was also a topic on race. I let it slide once, but couldn’t let it go twice.

  2. When an artist presents their craft, whether it be an image, a piece of stone or words, they expose their soul for critique. The comment…. “…no need to keep stirring this mess up, Steve.” had nothing to do with your writing but spoke volumes on the respondents position with the subject.

    Nothing ever grew out of maintaining the Status Quo…

  3. Steve, maybe his question should have been, why does it take a visit from Jesse Jackson to stir things up? Race relations have never been good in jonesboro, or northeast Arkansas for that matter. An interview with a famous person is a boost for anyone’s blog, but is that the only reason this story is worthy of coverage? If the young man who died had been white, would Jesse have come to town and led his march? Why not?

    At the very least these officers were complacent and inept. Why isn’t that the story? Why in this day does this man’s race matter?

    If race relations is the issue, let’s not wait until blood is spilled to talk about it and “stir this mess.” If its the quality of law enforcement practices, let’s keep it stirred up just the same.

    • I agree with you mostly, Keith. That should be the question for each of us. His particular comment was based on being uncomfortable in his own skin with regard to a discussion on race. I’ve been writing about race relations for a long time prior to this incident. About once or twice every couple of months I go to a 100% “black church,” because I enjoy it, and I think it’s my responsibility to reach across lines that should not exist. As for the police officers, they may have been inept, but they may also have made a simple oversight that had horrible results. Sometimes, good cops (like all people) make bad mistakes, and I tend to think that was the case here. I really appreciate you reading and commenting.

      • I’m a bit confused Steve. The original posted comment that I read, copied and pasted here, reads, “No need to keep spreading that mess Steve”. The quote in your blog today reads, “…no need to keep stirring this mess up, Steve.” Which is correct the correct version of the post? They are simliar, but at least to me, the words convey different meanings.

        I agree with some of your statements here, and I agree with with the reply made by Ms. Luftig as well. You have the right of expression, as does the gentleman who made the post. I happen to know you both personally, and I know you both to be good men, albeit good men with differing opinions. (Which, I will admit, is irrelevant to the argument at hand. It is my right to express it, though.)

        I support your right to express your opinions publically, and to report on whatever subject matter and from whatever perspective you may desire. I also support his right to express his opinion, even though it may have come across as a chastisement to you.

        The “right to express” is a right that we must never allow to be diminished, is it not?

  4. Over here next door to Arkansas in Missouri we’ve got another rather controversial story going on. Maybe you’ve heard about a guy running for the U.S. Senate who said something last Sunday that was, well, about as stupid a comment as I’ve heard in a long time from somebody running for public office (and that’s saying something considering the current political scene). Among the many who jumped all over this idiot were just about the entire GOP establishment. I suspect their concern was not so much about what he said regarding rape as the fact that by saying it he’s put an issue front and center in the national campaign they’d just as soon not be brought up. And to make it worse, for them at least, he’s staying in the race and the public eye. As you’ve mentioned, just because somebody is uncomfortable with a public “messing around” with issues such as race or abortion or rape doesn’t mean the rest of us should just keep quiet.

    Keep on “messing around,” Steve.

    • Thanks, Rich. You just made me smile. I have the benefit of a great editor, and a few months back, he taught me a great lesson, particularly when it comes to writing in the “christian” genre. He basically said wrapping things up in a nice pretty bow, serves no purpose. We’re all better off when we’re squirming in the inadequacy of our christian faith. It’s something I’ll never forget. And yes, I’ve been following the Akin ordeal with interest. It’s a crazy world, but it sure is fun to write about it!!. You take care. ~ steve

  5. Pingback: Should You Stir the Pot Just to Get Blog Hits? « stevenwwatkins

  6. Love your boldness, Steven. However, wasn’t the comment by the reader that so offended you within his First Amendment rights? Don’t people have the right to say that they don’t want to hear what you have to say?

    • Perhaps. But for me not when what they say is masked in the discomfort of their prejudice. The background you do not know is that the same reader several month ago also essentially told me to “hush up” when I’d written a post on a racial issue.I could have easily named the reader, and the background, but I thought it would have been in poor taste. Free expression that hides behind racism won’t be tolerated on this blog.

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