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Character: A matter of politics?

A former colleague called to say thanks, that he used my column to start a discussion he had been meaning to have with his teenage daughter.

A grandmother wrote to say that she had sent all the copies of the column to her children, with instructions to share it with her grandchildren.

For months, people stopped me in restaurants and at church to say that they had read the piece and sent copies to family and friends.

Never before, and never again since, has my column (reprinted on the facing page) produced such a response.

Of course, Americans had never before, and haven't since, encountered the Monica Lewinsky affair, either.

Lewinsky's infamous dalliance with President Clinton was the basis of the column that triggered the impassioned response. Invariably, the complimentary readers would say they were glad to read that character matters.

The funny thing is, neither the column nor the readers focused on whether character matters in the selection or retention of the president of the United States. That point had long been debated before this column ran, and continued long after.

The point of the column, and the responses, was that the important discussions about character involve parents and children, and husbands and wives, not journalists and politicians.

It was written as a letter, addressed "Dear Daughter," after I watched Monica Lewinsky on television.

The reaction to a column that I had feared might appear maudlin or journalistically soft taught me two lessons:

1. Average readers are often less-worried about the character of politicians, whom they probably distrust anyway, than they are about the character of their children and family members. (Our editorials chastising Clinton for his behavior and analyzing his impeachment received far fewer letters and comments.)

2. When a journalist frames an "issue" in terms that average readers can relate to in their daily lives, the response may be pleasantly surprising -- and enlightening.

NCEW member Thomas Lee Tryon is editorialpage editor of the Sarasota HeraldTribune in Florida.
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Author:TRYON, TOM
Publication:The Masthead
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2000
Words:330
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