Tags: You | CAN | Make | Difference

You CAN Make a Difference

Wednesday, 12 April 2006 12:00 AM

This is the column I've resisted writing for years. It took a reader's e-mail striking forcefully between my eyes to awaken me to the importance of it.

What took me so long? No mystery. What follows is, for my taste, much too tame, bland, goody-goody and non-controversial. It takes no courage at all and, worst of all, it's cliché.

In journalism school I never needed the lecture to avoid clichés. I hated them from birth. Nobody has ever heard me say, "It's raining cats and dogs!" or ever will. I won't laugh at the boss's joke no matter how funny it is. I may smile politely and do my roaring in private later on.

I have many times, as a single man, thought I recognized an extraordinarily good-looking woman from a previous encounter. I swear before God I'd sooner do without all the delights of any she-and-me connection rather than approach her with the ultimate cliché of "Haven't I met you someplace before?"

So, what breaks my resistance to the subject of this little essay?

A reader, Cliff Kelley of Las Vegas, e-mailed me and pointed out that, although some senators and congressmen are saying they're impressed with the public reaction against illegal immigration, nobody has yet suggested a mobilization of public opinion to be machine-gunned mercilessly into congressional eyes, ears, hearts and minds.

Cliff Kelley is right. The first thing I learned about persuasion in this media business is that most people think it takes far more "reaction" to impress legislators than it actually does. In my early days as a radio interviewer I interviewed a congressman from North Carolina who told his staff to send him personally all letters that were hand-written! He knew those letters were honest, natural and organic expressions from individual North Carolina farmers and citizens who had sincere concerns rather than special interests looking for a legislative favor.

Ask the average person, "How many e-mails, letters or phone responses do you think it takes to penetrate the rhinoceros hide of a lawmaker?" They will drastically overestimate. The true answer is that an unending torrent of e-mails, letters, cards all saying the exact same thing and obviously staged by some organized pressure group COUNTS AS ONLY ONE RESPONSE on the scoreboard of the legislator. The stupidest ones can smell "Organized pressure. Interesting, but safe to disregard!"

However, when the responses carry the phosphorescence of authenticity – like the handwritten letters from North Carolina farmers – the rule changes. At that point, one – just one single genuine response – is an indication, two is a trend, three is a groundswell.

Here's a story Mike Wallace probably wishes everybody had forgotten. I don't think it's so bad, and I respect Mike's professional achievements much more than I disdain his wretched leftist politics. I repeat this not to bedevil Mike but to make a point as important as any he's ever given America on "Sixty-Minutes" or anywhere else.

In the late 1950s Mike had an interview show on a local New York channel; good job, but far from the thunderous glory that attends anything on CBS. A notorious child-killer named Nathan Leopold was scheduled to be released from prison in Joliet, Illinois, after serving an almost-life sentence. In those days there were few child-killings. Leopold and his partner, Richard Loeb, had abducted a toddler in the Chicago area and killed him for the thrill. It was a case that gripped America and wouldn't let go.

Mike Wallace had arranged to have his cameras at the prison gate to interview Leopold as he walked out. High-fives were exchanged among Wallace's triumphant staff.

Suddenly they got word that CBS cameras would be there, too, breaking Mike's exclusive and sending dismay cascading down what had been alps of triumph. According to an article Mike Wallace wrote himself, which appeared in the issue of True Magazine that hit the stands in April 1960, Mike's producer, Al Ramros, placed 10 telephone calls to 10 friends in different parts of the United States.

Within a few days the president of CBS received 10 letters from widely different parts of the country, all saying, in completely different language: "Dear Sir: It has come to my attention that you plan to flash the face of that most-notorious child-killer Nathan Leopold into our living rooms, where all of us, including our young, will gaze upon his image. How could you in clear conscience perpetrate this tasteless outrage upon an America that has grown to respect CBS as a defender of American values?"

Each of those letter writers got a letter from the president of CBS throwing himself on the floor, vowing to cancel the intended interview and apologizing for the underlings who could have ever dreamed of perpetrating such an atrocity.

In fact, Mike Wallace's plans to interview Leopold at the prison gate also happened to fall through, but that's irrelevant to the point. CBS caved after only 10 apparently genuine and disconnected complaints.

The one incident that proves my point happened so quickly nobody noticed. In the early 1990s, just as e-mail was grabbing traction, a pressure group that wanted to eliminate homeschooling thought it had the perfect weapon: a bill all polished, greased and ready to slide through Congress requiring all teachers of young Americans to have a teaching degree from a teacher's college.

Not many homeschooling moms do! Talk radio got the word out in the morning, the public protest via e-mails to Congress had landed when the legislators returned from lunch, and the bill was defeated.

While we lament the failure of democracy so far across the Arab world, why not mobilize it here in America? Thanks to e-mail and the Web, we've never been so able to let our leaders know exactly what we think.

You know your name, date of birth, Social Security number, phone number, e-mail address, passwords and a few other necessities. If we add the ways and means to contact our state legislators, congressmen, senators, governors and president with brief, blunt expressions of our opinion, democracy will at least be fortified here at home.

I happen to believe the overwhelming majority of Americans want a simple enforcement of our immigration laws. A nation that cannot control its borders does not deserve the respect of those who cross those borders illegally. My greatest delight would be to be proven right by your e-mail, letter, postcard "vote." In some strange way, it would also please me to be proven WRONG by that same vote. Let the people speak!

The point is that painful but powerful cliché YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

Okay, this essay didn't claim any new territory for the queen of England, the president of the United States or the governor of North Carolina.

I only hope it revealed the cosmic stupidity of failing to send your opinion like a boxing glove into the faces of those who rule now that painless, cost-free, electronic ways and means are so readily available.

With e-mail and the Internet, every day is Election Day!


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This is the column I've resisted writing for years.It took a reader's e-mail striking forcefully between my eyes to awaken me to the importance of it. What took me so long?No mystery.What follows is, for my taste, much too tame, bland, goody-goody and...
Wednesday, 12 April 2006 12:00 AM
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