I can't decide how to start this off. Something about hell freezing over. Too trite.
But thanks to one reader. One disgusted reader. Here we are.
Plastics News recently featured an item on President Donald Trump's re-election campaign selling plastic straws with his name laser engraved.
Oh, by the way, a package of 10 straws cost $15. And the campaign's website called them recyclable.
Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, reports the sale of the plastic straws has been brisk in the month or so they have been on the market.
Campaign Communications Director Tim Murtaugh told The Washington Post that nearly 45,000 sets of straws have been sold, raising some $670,000 for the campaign.
The campaign has called paper straws “liberal,” and Murtaugh told the newspaper the straws have been a “runaway success.”
Now if you are a reader of Plastics News, or a reader, or a person, you are mostly likely aware of the controversy of single-use plastics. If not, then here's the Cliffs Notes: they are under attack.
Packaging consultant Victor Bell read the original short story and had a reaction, sending a letter to the Federal Trade Commission challenging the notion that plastic straws are recyclable. FTC guidelines indicate that at least 60 percent of the country must have access to facilities that handle a particular item for it to be deemed recyclable.
Well the problem here is that it's widely held that straws — because they are, well, straws — can't effectively be recycled with the current way America handles its recyclables. Equipment at material recycling centers is not designed to handle small items. Their sweet spot includes containers, cardboard and other paper. Straws and other small items fall through sorting equipment and end up being thrown out with the trash.
So anyway, Plastics News (well, me, this time) wrote a story about Bell's beliefs and letter to the FTC. Regardless of your political affiliation, this was and is a good story. A president. Plastics. And an opposing point of view.
But not everyone agreed. One reader, who provided a first name and a last initial, had this email response.
"Wash, rinse, dry and reuse. The original recycling. Ask your grandmother about it. But you just never-Trump along. Disgusted PN reader."
Let's not start talking about reuse verses recycling here. I get the point.
I also get that these are troubling times in our country. The divide is great. And I worry about the future if sides can't figure out how to get along.
I typically ignore criticism from people who will not provide their full name. But I also try to respond to criticism from people who are willing to engage in a thoughtful discussion.
As critiques go, this one was Ivory soap mild. But for some reason it has stayed with me.
Sure, there are political undertones all over this story. That's obvious. But what I really want to address is the role the media plays in a free society. There absolutely are media outlets that have taken sides. Fox and MSNBC, for example. If you are reading this, then you all are smart enough to figure out where you think others fall on the political spectrum and discern for yourself. Hopefully.
But the "media" is much more than talking heads on television or radio. Or the editorial page for that matter.
The media is broad and deep. It's the city hall reporters. It's correspondents who cover the chicken dinners in their little villages. It's the news crew that shows up to report on an accident or fire. It's the feature writer who brings a person's story to the masses. There is a reason why it's called the Fourth Estate.
I'm a reporter, and I loathe taking a position. I try to report and stay out of the opinion business. All good reporters do this. But all good reporters are trained to understand what makes for an interesting story as well. Just because you report on someone else's opinion does not mean you share or endorse their views. It's simply news, or at least something you think the readers would want to read.
OK, ok, this is a "journalism for dummies" explanation. But it's important to understand. And that's why during all my years at working for Crain Communications Inc., the owner of Plastics News, I've only one other time written something that could go on the editorial page.
That was after traveling to New York to cover the aftermath of 9-11 when my editors asked me to share some thoughts. It was probably one of the most difficult 12 inches of copy I've ever had to write.
But this isn't. It's journalism. Plain and simple.