Opinion: When opinions cross fine lines

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County Commissioner Chris Fillios is upset with something I wrote.

I need to explain it, to Chris and to my readers.

But first, we need to back up a bit …

Writing an opinion column sometimes means walking a very fine line.

Oh, tossing out thoughts in this space is no problem when we’re having fun and chatting about my cat, or perhaps crazy signs that readers photograph.

There are even serious subjects on which I would never expect any criticism — like Friday’s column on preventing teen suicide. It’s something where we all agree that any solution would be a huge help.

The tight spots in this job occur when my opinion differs from that of public officials, and I have to explain why I disagree.

After all, I’m stating in print that someone or some official body is going in what I perceive is the wrong direction.

You should know that with those types of columns I am speaking only for myself — that’s why my name and picture are sitting next to the word “Opinion.”

I’m not representing the newspaper’s position in this role, although the editor sees my columns and gives me leeway to write what I think.

That said, please understand …

With a potentially controversial column, my first priority is to make sure that if I’m being critical of an action or decision, I’m not personally insulting the individuals involved.

Occasionally, that can be a close call.

It happened on Thursday, when I wrote about the Board of County Commissioners’ apparent decision to create a position something like “communications director” in the board’s chain of command.

TO HEAR the commission’s version of a move I was on record as thinking misguided, I spoke to Fillios — and he freely agreed that the shuffling of two or three current staff members to add a communications director (or someone with a similar title) was his call.

Things got sticky, though, when Chris said he had no idea what would be discussed at an executive session on hiring the very next day.

I wrote this phrase: “Mini-fib alert on that one.”

It was meant almost jokingly.

From the outside, I thought it was almost impossible that a commissioner specifically planning to move staff members into new roles would not know anything at all about a session on hiring — something planned less than 24 hours later.

Chris said he hadn’t put the item on the agenda, which was true.

He also took what I thought was a tongue-in-cheek line as an implication that he was lying.

Not so.

I don’t believe Chris would lie in any situation.

So why type “mini-fib alert”?

Well, I also knew that sometimes public officials are forced to speak AROUND the truth — as in this case, where Chris couldn’t have admitted anything no matter what he knew, because what’s said in executive sessions is secret.

So …

My apology to Chris Fillios, because I wandered just across that fine line.

But when you walk that tightrope often enough, eventually you can stumble over the wrong phrase.

If it happens, you own up to it — and hopefully maintain the trust of readers and the people you cover.

Therefore …

I liked that “mini-fib alert” phrase when I wrote it.

Today, I wish I could take it back.


Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.

A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week. Steve’s sports column runs on Tuesday.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com.


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