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Editor's Letter

We Must Become Citizen-Editors

Editorial dimensions demand we get answers to big questions

Before handing out our diplomas, College of Wooster President Howard Lowry invited my graduating class to seek "the editorial dimension," a lifelong search for facts, perspective and relevance.

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That invitation nearly 50 years ago is even more apt today. The good editor, he insisted, has a sense of context and "gathers into relationship the miscellaneous events, the shreds and patches of our fragmented life. It keeps our heritage alive and reminds us of what we have forgotten — the things silently gone out of mind, or things violently destroyed."

For him, the active ingredient was the search. As we move deeply into this election campaign, with its explosion of information and misinformation at unprecedented levels of anger and irrelevance, has there ever been a greater need for what Lowry described as "citizen-editors"? If our life was characterized by "shreds and patches" in the 1960s, how do we confront a world of a thousand or so cable channels, more than 600 million Internet sites and 18 million bloggers, not to mention billions of dollars worth of negative TV ads?

The editorial dimension demands that we work to determine the accuracy, authenticity and relevance of what we see and hear. That means we cut through the crossfire over outsourced jobs and failed stimulus spending. Or the tiresome nonsense about birth certificates.

Our search for the editorial dimension demands that we ask and get answers to the big questions, that we do the math and that we appreciate the context. As a nation, we continue to spend $4 for every $3 we receive in taxes, by any measure an unsustainable path. So here are the questions:

If you want to cut tax rates, what loopholes do you close to make up for the lost revenue? In the face of a $1.1 trillion deficit, ending a tax cut for the wealthy does little to close the gap. How much longer do we postpone dealing with the challenges facing Medicare and Social Security? What else must be done? How seriously can we take criticism of the $716 billion cut from projected Medicare spending from those whose budget proposals include the same savings? Don't demagogue a health care law without saying what you would do to cut costs or provide coverage for the uninsured. Balancing budgets is easy if you reduce Medicaid spending — one-third of it to aid older people — by half. But how realistic is that? The math is tough. It gets more complicated when we toss in rigid rhetoric and political posturing.

The candidates should be debating the proper size and role of government. Instead, we are buried in name-calling and diversions. We need a sober and realistic debate, based on facts, perspective and relevance. Be an editor. Demand it.

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Dan Rather, who has won every prestigious journalism award in his distinguished career, discusses all the big stories from his decades of reporting.

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