I remember that day very well as the day I vowed to screen any international phone calls before picking up the receiver.
A man, not from the United States, was the most hostile and profane caller I can ever remember getting. He was calling, not about our editorial position on any issue, but about a letter to the editor from a writer from Kingsburg.
The letter was written by Kathryn Tuell and the headline was, “Armenians should relax and enjoy being Americans.” She was annoyed that Armenians were pushing for Congress to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, and in the process, jeopardizing peace with Turkey.
“I don’t understand why citizens of Armenian heritage can’t relax, enjoy their new country and the freedoms we have here.”
Cleaning up the language of the caller, I will put it this way: How could anyone ever be allowed to express such an opinion so different from his own?
As anyone familiar with the Valley would predict, there was a measurable quake after her letter, and, in fact, the traffic on fresnobee.com was bigger on this letter than any other this year. A response to her letter by Alex Tavlian of Fresno also made it into our online top 10. If you are ever thinking that a simple letter to The Bee cannot make a difference, rethink. Thousands of views from all over were measured by our tech experts. Who knows how many more times it was shared on social media?
The new year is a natural time to assess what grabbed our interest online 2015. We have experts now to measure such things, so let’s take a look at the the top five letters, Valley Voices and editorials for 2015.
▪ The second most popular letter touched on two hot issues: water conservation and income inequality. “No brown lawns on tony Van Ness Boulevard” by Jessie Ferguson pointed out that folks carrying Fresno’s most prestigious address were not carrying their weight on water conservation. The people letting their lawns die for the sake of saving water were definitely not there.
▪ Across the nation, there were objections to police shootings, and the Valley was no exception. Bob McCloskey of Squaw Valley wrote that “Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer should resign.” The letter was published in September and he said, “The police shootings of three people within the last week show an old pattern – shoot to kill immediately without considering non-lethal force.”
▪ In June, Dave Martin of Fresno called for a grand jury investigation of the Fresno Unified School District if the school board did not agree to have an outside investigator for the lease-leaseback controversy. He encouraged people to write to the grand jury directly. His was one of many received this year on this topic.
▪ “Airport’s abhorrent rules on Uber”: This letter arrived during the Thanksgiving travel crush from Harry Schoettler of Fresno. He recounted a very good experience catching Uber from the San Diego airport and planned to do the same in Fresno, only to find out airport rules here restrict Uber drivers to a quarter-mile away. He was not amused by “typical small-town thinking.” His story about schlepping his suitcases after a tiring flight to catch his ride traveled far and wide. Less than a week later, Fresno’s airports director said that he plans to propose a permit process for ride-sharing networks to the City Council in early 2016.
Top 5 Valley Voices
▪ When it came to the Valley Voices essays in The Bee, Fresno City Council Member Clint Olivier’s “Six ways to battle Fresno’s destructive vagrants” got the most attention. His ideas for separating the homeless from the vagrants, and cracking down on their damage to the city, sparked a hot community debate, spurred other essays and many letters to the editor.
▪ An essay by former Fresnan Jill Simonian, a blogger and television personality living in Los Angeles, was titled “Big city mom finds herself crushing on Fresno.” After a visit to a town for a wedding, she told the sweet story of the many ways she misses her hometown.
▪ “My farm, my family and the drought” by Kerman farmer Paul Betancourt, who also is a fine writer, touched on one family’s expenses and frustrations surrounding the uncertain water situation in the Valley and how it affects their financial well-being.
▪ “What are we waiting for?” by veterans advocate Jim Doyle railed on Congress for ignoring two bills that would address toxic exposure of Agent Orange/dioxin, which still is killing veterans 40 years after the Vietnam War ended.
▪ “Fresno Unified finds its way out of the woods” was a commentary by Walt Buster and Pete Weber heralding the accomplishments and challenges of Fresno Unified School District and its Superintendent Michael Hanson during the past decade. Buster is a former superintendent of schools for Clovis Unified and served as interim superintendent of Fresno Unified from July to December 2004. Pete Weber led a task force that produced a turnaround plan for the district. During a time of great criticism of the district, they were Hanson’s defenders.
Top 5 editorials
While letters to the editor and Valley Voices express the opinions of our readers, editorials give the opinions of The Bee’s editorial board. Our names are listed at the bottom of the page.
▪ “Marijuana growers are wrecking California” was of broad interest nationwide, as the unexpected consequences of legalizing medical marijuana were examined 20 years after we first voted yes. The editorial lamented the lack of action from the Legislature to protect the environment as “acres of ancient trees are disappearing and illegal marijuana farms are popping up in their place. Streams and rivers are being sucked dry, diverted sometimes miles away through plastic pipes into tanks.” No doubt states that are considering legalization are looking at California’s example.
▪ “Fresno County hides the truth about Seth Ireland’s death”: The Bee has demanded transparency for years on this brutal case of child abuse and the courts have ordered the county to turn over an investigative report of a child’s death. The county continues to refuse.
▪ “We are all Amrik Singh Bal”: When Amrik Singh Bal, a 68-year-old Sikh wearing a turban, was brutally beaten as he awaited a ride to work in the fields one morning, The Bee stood steadfast against what appears to be a hate crime. Ignorant people often confuse Sikhs with Muslims, targeting them for revenge. “We stand in solidarity with the Sikh community and with all those who celebrate, practice and protect our constitutional right to religious freedom – and believe that America’s embrace of immigrants has made it a stronger, better country.”
▪ “Mayor Swearengin ignores a glaring need”: The Bee objected to the mayor placing $1 million in reserve when it could go to the city’s parks and recreation department, preventing crime and providing needed services to Fresno’s older neighborhoods.
▪ “Fresno schools chief just doesn’t get it”: The Bee charges that Superintendent Hanson doesn’t understand the magnitude of an appellate court ruling about the district’s use of leaseback construction contracts.
Gail Marshall is associate editor for the Opinion pages: 559-441-6680