Rocky and the Taliban

Published: Thursday, Oct. 6 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

The cruelest death, wrote Suren Kierkegaard, is to be nibbled to death by ducks. And Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson seems to feel the ducks are lining up against him. He recently labeled this newspaper "the Taliban" as he sought to deflect recent Deseret Morning News stories about his freewheeling approach to city spending. Anyone acquainted with the mayor's style will understand his wild flight into hyperbole. Nobody in America is the Taliban, of course. No one is executed for their beliefs or for speaking out. Grand religious monuments are not destroyed here. Opposing points of view are permitted. Competing versions of truth are encouraged.

Yet we do see a dab of irony in the mayor's characterization of this newspaper as The Taliban.

The Taliban, as we recall, was not a cabal of disgruntled newspaper editors but was made up of political leaders who could not abide dissent.

The Taliban had no use for newspapers and free speech. In fact, the Taliban had a hard time even fathoming a point of view that did not coincide with its own view of the world.

The Taliban banished subordinates who did not toe the line, and Taliban leaders could be ruthless to those who questioned their motives.

The Taliban leaders were not diplomatic. They hated compromise. They were true believers who preferred battle to brainstorming.

And they were masters of disinformation.

In a classic head fake, the mayor has tried to spin his skirmish with the Deseret Morning News as a "freedom to drink alcohol" issue. It isn't about lifestyle and never was. The story of the mayor's bar tab was about a leader who violated the very policy he had signed. If licorice had been banned by the city, serving licorice to visiting jazz musicians would have merited the same newspaper space.

It's not about booze.

It's about abiding by rules.

The mayor seems to be concerned that by exploring inconsistencies he considers small and trivial, the Deseret Morning News will somehow skewer his grand vision for his city. If the Deseret Morning News is out of line in bringing such "provincial" matters to light, the public will weigh in with such an opinion. Until then, the newspaper will continue to expose wrongdoing in public office, publish letters from those with differing points of view and continue to hold city officials to the very standards they have set for themselves.

To some, such an agenda may feel like duck bites.

To us, it feels more like freedom of the press, good journalism and the public's right to know.

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