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I had a voicemail message the other day from a nice-sounding lady and returned her call. For the first 30 seconds it was like talking to Aunt Bea. A conversation with a kindly grandmother.

And then the rant began. And she turned into Ann Coulter’s angrier, older sister. On steroids.

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The Times is part of the fake-news establishment.

Really? Was it the 4-H & FFA Fair coverage? Because those animals looked pretty real.

I know all about your political leanings.

You do? Because I’m not sure myself, feeling like I go Right on some issues, Left on others, and generally plow the middle ground, although that is out of step with our hyper-partisan culture.

You have an agenda.

You’ve got me there. Our agenda is to write about what’s going on in Carroll County, with articles on local people and organizations filling our website and front page each day written because we think they have news value and tell interesting stories (not because they play into any narrative).

She wasn’t buying it. So let’s address the elephant in the room. More accurately, the donkey in the newsroom.

It would be disingenuous to suggest journalists across the country don’t lean to the Left. Studies show the overwhelming majority are registered as independents — nearly two out of three — but of those who do claim a party affiliation, Democrats outnumber Republicans perhaps 4 to 1.

But they also are professionals, more than capable of doing the job, writing down-the-middle, objective news stories whether about accused criminals, professional athletes or elected officials.

That content, of course, differs from what appears in the Opinion/Editorial section of a website or newspaper. As the name suggests, this is a forum for opinion — of readers, of local and national columnists and of the organization’s editorial board.

This section is what seems to rankle our readers. From the lady on the other end of the phone to a more polite but no less unhappy emailer the same day to a number of folks I’ve spoken with over the past few months, the refrain is often punctuated with what they consider the worst insult: You used to be a good paper, but in the last few years you’ve gone “liberal.”

The evidence often cited for our supposed massive ideological shift is that the local columnists we feature in Opinion have taken a Left turn. That’s a neat theory. I’d almost believe it if the facts didn’t get in the way. Most of our opinion columnists have been with us for many years. And they haven’t changed teams.

The columnist most frequently, er, mentioned in email, voicemail, conversations and Facebook comments is Tom Zirpoli. He frequently points out national policies or actions with which he disagrees. To some, that makes him Public Enemy No. 1. To me, that makes him an opinion columnist. And he’s been writing opinion pieces for us since 2004.

We have 10 or so opinion columnists. The ones local critics tend to take issue with have been with us for more than five years. Meanwhile, we’ve added three columnists over the past few years whose views generally can be found on the other side of the aisle. So, every week, our Opinion section has columns that skew Left, columns that skew Right and some that either fall in the middle or go both ways in the span of 700 words.

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I like that balance. But balance isn’t what people seem to desire today. They either want an echo chamber – part of why Mark Zuckerberg is a bazillionaire — or they want to “hate read” so they can become outraged.

That’s not new and its endemic to both sides, but it has ratcheted up significantly during Donald Trump’s presidency. Of course, every president is a target, scrutinized to a greater degree than any other figure in our country. Believe it or not, we ran lots of critical commentary and unflattering political cartoons about President Obama when he was in office.

Trump was elected — solidly supported in Carroll County — as voters chose an unconventional candidate who said (or tweeted) whatever popped into his head. Now, when Trump is called out for unconventional behavior, actions and comments, he reacts — often angrily — and his supporters respond in kind. Anything that’s perceived as negative, whether a well-reported article by the New York Times, commentary from a veteran national figure or a hit piece by a far-Left website, is dubbed “fake news.”

Including Carroll County Times content. By, among others, the angry caller I referenced.

I tried to tell her we’d be happy to publish a letter to the editor or an opinion column of her own. She hung up before I could finish.

Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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