We’ve been scolded in some corners for our coverage and commentary about the post-game ugliness at the Manhattan-Junction City football game. Most recently, we published a letter from Bruce McMillan, an architect and a longtime proponent of regional cooperation between Manhattan and Junction City.
We take his opinion seriously. I personally have served on committees and attended meetings for years on the subject of regionalism with Mr. McMillan, and I’m sure he and I agree on nearly everything.
I would like to take a moment in this space essentially to answer his critique. He said a column I wrote and the “level of news reporting by The Manhattan Mercury has only egged this issue on to drive a further wedge” between Manhattan and Junction City.
The column he’s referring to was a tongue-in-cheek piece I wrote to lampoon the stupid behavior by some people after the game who chanted “FJC!” Lots of people loved that column; a few, including my longtime friend and critic Helen Roser, despised it. Helen said it was the single dumbest editorial she had ever read.
Well, anyway, that’s a matter of opinion, and I can handle that.
On the subject of our news coverage, though, I have to rise to the defense of our reporters and editors. Because what they did is at the core of our existence.
Here’s how this evolved: A little more than a week after the game, the Junction City school board held a special meeting at which the board unanimously voted to condemn whatever it was that had happened after the game. They used the term “racial incidents” to describe what they believe happened, even as they acknowledged not witnessing anything themselves.
This occurred in a public meeting, voted on by elected officials. We were obligated to publish an account of that meeting. Furthermore, as journalists we needed to find out, to the best of our ability, what actually happened. With all respect due to anyone who thinks otherwise, this is just fundamental. If we don’t know what has actually happened, how do we make any sense of the world? Do we just go on our previously held opinions? Do we keep quiet for fear of being accused of ruffling feathers, or driving wedges?
We got the school board member on the phone who pushed for the condemnation. He pointed us to a post on Facebook by the mother of a boy who said that there were racist comments used toward Junction City cheerleaders as they crossed the field to leave the stadium after the game. We tried to reach the mother directly, and we tried to reach the cheerleading coach. Neither would talk. So we quoted directly from the Facebook post, explaining that it was third-hand.
Was that actually what happened? We still don’t know exactly, because nobody will talk. We have already written an editorial in this space calling on both school districts to make public the findings of their investigations. So far, nothing.
We have no interest in driving wedges. We have a very strong interest in letting our subscribers know exactly what is happening in their community. If we don’t do that, there’s no reason for us to be here.