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Brave Balancing Act

In the movie The Monkey King, an elderly and wise teacher gives a single weapon to a young scholar. The weapon must serve him well in upcoming battles against evil, battles he feels ill-prepared to fight, much less win. The teacher produces a single writing pen, a simple stick of bamboo attached to a diamond-shaped point. It is not a case of the pen being mightier than the sword. At this moment, the pen is the sword.

It takes courage to wield a pen. Especially when one's words invite public criticism. One courageous pen-wielder (and keyboard typist) can be found in the small city of Wichita Falls, Texas. His name is Carroll Wilson. For more than a decade, Wilson has served as managing editor of the Wichita Falls Times Record News. During this time, he has lived up to the best standards of journalism, standards which include speaking up, speaking for, speaking against, and ensuring that there is space for everyone else to express their own opinions in guest columns and letters to the editor.

Last week, Wilson wrote an impassioned editorial about what U.S. citizens need to say to their government. The title: "Not just no, but hell no". The subtitle: "Congress will not say no to President, so citizens must." Here is an excerpt:

"From the get-go, it's been morally unjustifiable, and it becomes more so every day that the fighting continues. Practically speaking, it is not "winnable" in any form or fashion. And it could very well lead to an expanded war in the Middle East involving Iran. President Bush's war in Iraq can no longer be supported or tolerated.

"Our troops are in Iraq, but the original moral judgment iterated in this space four years ago still stands. Continuing to put them in harm's way and to continue the killing of innocent bystanders is still not the Christian way of doing things and never will be. In fact, by any code of conduct devised, what we are doing is wrong. Lives are being sacrificed for nothing, and to claim, even out of heartfelt apology, that men and women are dying in Iraq to preserve our liberty truly makes a mockery of those deaths."

Wilson received some kudos for his remarks, but he also received some highly critical letters that verge on being personal attacks, not simply expressions of different views. One local attorney wrote:
"Mr. Wilson: I don’t like irresponsible left-wing un-American journalists like you. Good Americans must be tired of the left-wing press and political whores who attack America, its president, and though disclaiming such, our troops. I am sick of your ilk. If there had been more like you during World War II, we’d be speaking German or Japanese. . . . Then, we had patriotism rather than idiocy. We won the Iraq war, but the mess lingers. . . . You sir, symbolize everything that’s wrong with America."

It's not easy for the inhabitants of the "Buckle on the Bible Belt" to hear that the government they voted for is not acting in a "Christian manner." But from the very beginning of the Iraq war, this small-city newspaper editor has had the guts to say just that. And the guts to also print the words of those who think he has it all wrong.

He has consistently exercised the wisdom to make room in the paper for a wide range of views, not only in Letters to the Editor, but also in guest and regular columns. The Times Record News has printed Anne Coulter. And it has printed Molly Ivins.

Year after year, Carroll Wilson has been honest with North Texas readers, taking a moral stand and accepting the vulnerability to attack that comes with it. Year after year, he makes sure that views and values divergent from his own are always published. Hey, big media, come to Wichita Falls. Ask Carroll Wilson to give you a refresher course on how to have the courage to speak out, take the heat, keep the balance . . . and keep free speech free.

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