Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Everybody Has One (OPINION)

By Bob Valentine

People are spending a great deal of time and energy these days sharing their opinions with me. A short list of topics includes: Immigration, various political candidacies, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the social justice of heath care programs, and the social justice of Travis Kelce dating Taylor Swift. 

Some of these people show their faces. Some sign their names as authors or editors. This is very handy because I can evaluate their opinion, in part, based on the degree to which they are experts on the subject. 

Some opinion givers are nameless. They lack the courage to stand behind their opinions, or they wish to disguise the fact that they have no real knowledge of what they are discussing. “Nameless,” to me, is the same as “valueless.” 

And some might as well be nameless. If you are blowing off steam because you don’t like Nancy Pelosi or Donald Trump or Gov. Beshear, and you have been armed by a capricious society with a Facebook page or a Tik-Tok account, you have the ability to offer your opinion. 

However, you have no legal or moral right for people to agree with your opinion. That is especially true if your feelings are unsupported by logic, reliable factual information or reputable experts. Thinking people (which should include you, Dear Reader) do not change their minds by majority vote. We need reasons. 

Furthermore, you have no right for people to refrain from offering their opinion of your opinion. If you comment on something as innocent as broccoli (as in, “I hate broccoli”), you have no right to feel injured if 500 Tweeting broccoli fans suddenly virtually descend on you with vilification concerning your Foodie heresy. In short, you asked for it. 

Perhaps you should attend to the admonition of America’s old social mentor, Mark Twain: 

In our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either.

The American newspaper industry took 200 years to develop codes of ethics, policy books and professional canons to prevent the misuse and abuse of the great power of mass communication. For the last twenty-five years we have all had that power, thanks to the Internet. It’s time we learned discretion. 

We seem to have learned that telling people what they wish to hear is profitable whether the information is true or beneficial. Up until the 1990s, spreading harmful gossip or telling lies for political gain was not only immoral, but was considered unworthy of hearing or reading. We used to laugh at The National Inquirer, remember? Money talks. 

There are a number of ways to make your point, but when you enter the public forum, you should try to be sure that the point is worthy. When you offer your opinion to others, after all, you should have a specific purpose: to lead your readers or listeners to belief in a position that will benefit the whole community.

If you’re just expressing your opinion without regard to how it might affect others, then you are asking us to listen to you for your own sake. That’s just selfish. You have a right to ask, “What’s in it for me?” I have a right to spend my time and efforts in another way and I have a right to ignore your opinion — if that’s all it is. 

You can argue for an unpopular position, but you must be prepared for two things: First, you must be willing to suffer verbal attack, a loss of ad revenue, personal insult, and a loss of subscribers or listeners. 

Second, even those who agree with you will better appreciate what you say if you can offer proof for your position and evidence of your concern for others. When you speak, write or create in public, it is no longer about you; it’s about us. 

It may be your opinion, but it’s our time and our attention. Prove it. 

Robert “Bob” Valentine is a retired senior lecturer in advertising for the Bauernfeind College of Business, Murray State University Dept. of Journalism and Mass Communication. He is also the chair of the McGaughey Lecture on Press Freedom and Responsibility.

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.

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