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May 26, 2010

Live long and prosper

One score, five offices and two logos ago, this father brought forth upon our community a new medium, conceived in innocence and dedicated to the proposition that no idea is too weird to discuss in print. Now we are engaged in a great civil war of ideas …

OK, enough of that. Twenty years ago, the first edition of LEO hit the streets, literally. Many people thought I was crazy to start a publication in Louisville, and perhaps I was, but I knew then what most experts recognize now: People will usually accept anything free.

Seriously, it is with great excitement and humility that I offer a contribution to the 20th anniversary edition of LEO. Back in 1990, I was frequently asked about my goals for this publication. I usually responded (prophetically), “Twenty years from now I hope I am able to say that I created this.”

At the time, 95 percent of all new publications failed to reach their first birthday, and the notion that I was launching something that would reach old age, in newspaper years, was nothing if not presumptuous. But here we are, and I am indescribably proud that my name appears every week as founder.

In that first issue I described my ideas for the publication in a column titled “Howdy” — “What we hope and believe will happen is that many of you will be inspired to write for LEO, that LEO will become a community forum in which ideas can be exchanged and debated in a FREE medium,” I wrote. It was my intention for LEO to be a place to which readers could turn for a whole loaf of ideas rather than a certain philosophical slice. Not only did LEO achieve that objective; it continues to do that today.

Sadly, that is not the case with most public dialogue. In fact, my first finger-pointing target in the current dysfunction of American politics is the media, much of which has become partisan sycophants for one ideological segment of society or another. FOX News and Rush Limbaugh may have been the bellwethers, but now the head of MSNBC has said his plan is for that network to be the FOX-of-the-left. The idea seems to be that the best way to attract an audience is to become an outlet for one point of view.

In this day and age, that’s the last thing we need. Today’s challenges — those involving health care, Wall Street reform, energy, immigration, education, job creation — are extremely complex and nuanced, and it is only through an extensive assimilation of perspectives that we can achieve optimum approaches to those challenges.

From day one, LEO has worked to do that by welcoming different views. In the early years, Republican (and my friend) Bill Stone was provided space to offer a perspective very different from mine. We initiated a spirituality column, so readers could get a view from above (presumably) the trenches. And I’m proud to say I was responsible for inviting Ricky Jones to become a regular contributor so the publication would not be too white.

My idea was never to seek a moderate tone, but rather to let even the loudest voices compete in the marketplace of ideas. It also was never to try to dominate the conversation. That’s why we did not endorse candidates in elections; we simply allowed our various writers to campaign in print for their favorites. I was very pleased, therefore, to see that LEO chose not to endorse in last week’s elections. The legitimate role of the news media is to facilitate a knowledgeable electorate, not to tell them how to vote.

I hope LEO lives long and prospers and that Louisville readers another score from now continue to regard it as a critical resource — but only one resource. Early on, a young reader told me LEO was the only publication he read. I suggested that was not a good idea if he hoped to be adequately informed. On the other hand, LEO has become nearly indispensable if you want to be fully informed about your world, so as far as I’m concerned, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

I thank all of you for sustaining LEO for the past 20 years, and I trust LEO will continue to earn your confidence and allegiance, and that this publication, of the people, by the people, and for the people, will not perish from the earth.

John Yarmuth now serves as Kentucky’s 3rd District representative in Congress. 

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