Carroll: PR machine cranks up for Lucy the beagle
Sure, you can tell it’s offseason by the funky spring weather, the melting snow, the dwindling number of visitors and the closing parties on the mountains.
Or you can take a gander at the letters to the editor in the Aspen newspapers — it’s that time of the year when opinions seem to flare up and nerves become easily unhinged.
I consider our letters-to-the-editor section as our version of town square — a venue for the lively trade of opinions and observations, as well as those head-scratching missives.
There’s a distinguishable difference, however, between the function of our commentary pages and a town square: We can discard letters to the editor as we see fit. Some might call that censorship, but they’d be wrong, as we’re a private business.
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Which brings us to the latest round of letters in defense an Aspen beagle named Lucy. Full disclosure: I’ve never met Lucy, so I have nothing against her. In fact, I wouldn’t even know her if she bit me on the butt.
Before we travel further down this road, it’s worth noting that I’m leaving out the names of the rest of the players in this drama — other than Lucy, who is either a terror on a leash or the sweetest canine this side of Benji’s birthplace. Regular readers of our opinion pages know their names, and if you don’t, I’ll give you enough hints to figure it out yourself.
This all brings us to last Thursday, when we published a letter by an Aspen resident who issued what basically was a public warning about Lucy. The letter writer said that he was the victim of an unprovoked attack by Lucy, which led to his being treated at the hospital.
Suffice it to say, Lucy’s owner did not take kindly to this letter. Her urgent calls poured into the office at The Aspen Times. I received voice messages and emails from the dog’s owner, and by the time I got around to discussing this with her on the phone, it was too late: I was accused of being an advocate for letters pitting neighbor against neighbor. She also demanded that we write a public apology to her and Lucy. Some 20 minutes later, the inevitable threat of a lawsuit emerged. “Do what you have to do, I need to get off the phone now,” I said.
Soon enough, she’d sent two letters to the paper defending Lucy and admonishing Lucy’s victim. And then she sent a letter asking that the letters not be published. We wouldn’t have published them anyway — they were filled with rumors and unfounded personal attacks not suited for print.
And then she sent photos of what appeared to be a lovable Lucy, along with testimonials of Lucy’s character. Next, the letter-writing campaign began, with offerings from throughout the country flooding in, all in defense of Lucy’s noble character.
• “Lucy is a good dog. There is no reason to print an article about a dog when there is no major problem. Focus on important stories.”
• “As a friend of Friendly Lucy and her owner, I can’t believe that this dog can be such a focus of attention on your newspaper, I know you are capable of meaningful journalism!”
It was clear that Lucy’s owner had asked her friends to write letters in defense of the beagle. Call it image repair or damage control — was this because Lucy plans to run for public office? What they failed to realize is that their offerings only escalated what would have been a here-today-gone-tomorrow event, and here I am, weighing in on this false controversy.
But this is the way it is when the spring offseason approaches. Toss in a dog controversy, and you’ve got the ingredients for a debate that actually could be held in town square. But for now, the letters pages will have to do. ’Tis the season, I guess.
Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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