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Editor defends Wandering Minds - readers will remain anonymous


A Column by the Editor
web posted January 12, 2009
COLUMN – Edgefield Mayor Ken Durham has published his personal disdain for the public’s ability to make anonymous comments in the Wandering Minds Section of EdgefieldDaily.com, calling it “counterproductive” and “poison” for our county. I vehemently disagree. Freedom of speech is one of the founding blocks of our great Republic. Neither you nor I have to agree with what someone says, but I defend their right to say it and support that position with the Constitution.

The Wandering Minds has been a thorn in the side of elected and public figures in Edgefield County since it was offered as a way to make EdgefieldDaily.com’s news more interactive to readers shortly after our founding several years ago. Public officials and figures hate what they cannot control.

Mr. Durham offers that many comments are from those who have not tried to seek the facts and that is a bad thing. No, that is part of the beauty of this type of free speech. If one person says something, asks a question, or offers a visceral opinion of a public figure – there is always at least one that will answer the question, deliver facts, or offer a differing opinion. All things and people are equal.

That is another founding block of our freedom, everyone being equal.

Comments of late in the Wandering Minds that have drawn the ire of Mr. Durham stem from what he deems a “relentless campaign” against Bettis Rainsford. Well, Mr. Rainsford put himself out there as a public figure two decades ago and as such he is fair game for scrutiny.

More so when he is publicly questioned about his failure to abide by county and possibly federal laws in a public meeting in a very serious matter that has the ability to mete out damages having to be paid by the county taxpayer if the county is sued for negligence for not enforcing the laws.

I suppose I should be shocked that people would read the news of the situation at Mt. Vintage and then have a few negative opinions about Mr. Rainsford. It seems Mr. Durham and Mr. Rainsford are obviously shocked that others would speak out on the current situation.

Mr. Durham offers a compilation of reasons why Mr. Rainsford should be respected. All good points and every one can be countered with at least one reason why he shouldn’t. I am not saying people should not have respect for him because I respect him. But I also respect fire.

Fire is a wonderful thing. It lifted man into the modern age. It created heat, cooked food, fueled steam engines, and made the very technological advancements we enjoy in the 21st Century possible. All great things, wonderful things, respectable beyond compare.

But fire can be equally devastating, causing great losses to great numbers of people at any given time. It can decimate tens of thousands of acres in a matter of days. It can kill, and does kill on a daily basis. Respect is not always given as an endearing thing; sometimes it is done so out of fear.

Anyone who says fear does not squelch free speech in Edgefield County has not been here very long. Our history is littered with those in power using their political connections to punish those who dare to speak out against the powers that be at any given time. When someone offers their view on the way things are going in this county those in power what to know who is saying it.

I have personally been attacked by an Edgefield County official that was found guilty of the crime during a time when I spoke out against the “powers that be” in this county. Former Edgefield County Administrator Wayne Adams also published slanderous letters in the local papers about EdgefieldDaily.com and me and signed them officially, “Edgefield County Administrator” in an effort to bring the demise of EdgefieldDaily.com. Don’t tell me that political speech in Edgefield County is not dangerous to your existence or your personal business enterprise. I know better.

Mr. Durham says that the anonymity of those expressing themselves is detrimental, poisonous in fact, because there is no way to identify the person saying them, thus preventing any debate or substantive exchange of ideas.

How?

Anonymity goes both ways. Obviously Mr. Durham, Mr. Rainsford, and other public officials read the Wandering Minds every day. I know for a fact most elected officials from local towns, the county, as well as our Legislative Delegation read it. Yet some would rather censor the comments rather than reply and answer them, even under the protection of their own anonymity.

I’m sorry, that just has a bit more of a Joseph Stalin ring to it than it does Thomas Jefferson.

The anonymity of complaints from the public has reined in a great deal of what most rightly consider a “Good Ole Boy system of government” that has prevailed in this county for far too long. That is not a bad thing. Public figures are walking on a few more eggshells today than they did four years ago and the only thing that is different now is the huge popularity of the Wandering Minds and the people’s ability to hold them accountable, expose misdeeds, or failure without having to worry about suffering reprisals to their businesses.

No longer can public figures rely on a willing and fawning press to toot their horns and proclaim Edgefield County as some sort of a Utopia because of our political and politically connected leaders and the citizens not cry foul. No longer are the people of Edgefield County afraid to point out the elephant in the living room or proclaim the Emperor has no clothes.

Are there great things going on in Edgefield County? Absolutely. Is everything that goes on a scene from “Leave it to Beaver” or “Happy Days”? Not hardly.

Just as every major media outlet in America, EdgefieldDaily.com will continue to allow readers to express themselves without fear of retribution for their personal and political opinions. That does not mean I agree with their views, but I will always defend their right to express them and will protect their anonymity by refusing to release their identity even if under a court order.

Unlike some people, my word is my bond.

Respectfully I say to Mr. Durham, as well as all other public figures, grow up. You wanted to be where you are, you put yourself out there, and if there are those who disagree or have less than glowing opinions of their actions… welcome to America. Some of the most vicious attacks have been made upon me and I allow most without comment. But, I’m a big boy and I can take it.

Amendment I of the Bill of Rights:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

I can’t find where it says, “Only if you sign your name to your speech”, in the First Amendment. It’s only 45 words long, but I will keep looking.

 
 




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