One of my favorite movies is the WWII epic “A Bridge Too Far,” about the disastrous Operation Market Garden, in which many thousands of Allied paratroopers were dropped into enemy territory and were largely captured or killed by the enemy. Ever since seeing that, I often refer to the title, which itself referred to Operation Market Garden’s overly ambitious plans and severe underestimation of the risks involved. And every once in a while, I too try to cross a bridge too far. Last week was one of those times.
Last Thursday, I wrote and published an editorial entitled “I can’t believe that bastard won,” which unsurprisingly has generated a fair amount of feedback. It generally came in one of three camps. The first camp was outraged Obama supporters who suggested I show the office of the President a little more respect, and to get over my disappointment in last Tuesday’s election results. Most of these did not actually read the article. They saw the headline and fired off a response to me. And while I would have rathered they actually read what they were criticizing, they proved that the headline is subject to the same rule of comedy wherein a joke that must be explained is a poor joke. Likewise, a headline that pulls too much of a switcheroo is a headline that has not done its job.
The second camp of responders consisted of upset Romney voters who called me out for lacking the conviction to actually support Romney. My point was that instead of trying to fight political battles it could not win, the industry would have been better served figuring out how to adapt to their new political reality. The problem here is coming on the heels of the election, such a point comes off like cheerleading for the other side. Besides, the lobbying efforts of the AALU are hardly inconsequential, and adapting a position of learned helplessness is never the most constructive way to deal with a political setback.
The third camp were readers who felt that my article was fair, but the title was sensational and/or in poor taste. I have had other readers who called the headline provocative and brave, but it’s all subjective. The truth is, I probably turned off more readers with it than I turned on. We are not here to make cheap grabs for your attention. The content we cover and the issues they involve are both too important for that. Please rest assured, this is not the beginning of a new normal in terms of the kind of content we produce, or the kinds of headlines we run. I had decided that given the outcome of the election, there would be a spirited discussion among the readers about the results, so we might as well get it started. Indeed there was. But I should have let it happen on its own.