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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Responding to allegations about 'usual suspects'

By Tom Warhover
January 29, 2010 | 4:09 p.m. CST

Dear Reader,

Mike Martin isn’t bashful about bashing the Columbia Missourian.

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Usually the criticism comes in comments on columbiamissourian.com.  His ire over this newspaper bubbles over into other places as well.

Last week, the home site for anti-Missourian-isms could be found on the Columbia Business Times’ blog.

Jacob Barker wrote a piece about the City Council’s discussion of whether to put a city charter change question on the April ballot. There are several; this one would have given the council more authority over the city manager’s hiring and firing decisions.

Martin, who operates his own site, Columbia Heart Beat, generally approved of the article.

But he took issue with a phrase of Barker's: “the usual suspects of city activists.”

Fair enough. I don’t find “usual suspects” to be particularly onerous, but I get his point that the phrase tends to be seen as dismissive.

Martin, in fact, notes he is one of those activists.

“As Mr. Barker is a former Missourian reporter, I’m sorry the Missourian continues to push this derisive and unfortunate stereotype. I see it applied with smug surety all too often in both local newspapers.”

So I did a search for “usual suspects” in the Missourian archives. I found nine “hits” dating to May 2007.

It would seem to prove Martin’s point.

Until you look further.

Of the nine, two “usual suspects” were television listings.

One was in a story about crime, and two more were with the comments from readers.

One “usual suspect” referred to possible causes of pulmonary embolism in young people.

Three were political:

So what am I to make of Martin’s claim?

If I thought the term was egregious (I don’t), and if I accepted all blame for anything written by former Missourian reporters or journalism school students (I don’t), then I would still draw this conclusion:

Martin’s myth is busted, to borrow from the popular cable show.

He really gets worked up toward the end of his comments on the Business Times blog:

“If the Missourian’s senior editorial staff would get out more (go to more meetings, actually press the flesh instead of pontificating from on high) they’d see how fallacious and irresponsible is this negative stereotype of citizen activists."

Let’s see: a broad statement generalizing a whole group of people in a pejorative way?

It seems I’ve heard a complaint about that before.

Signed,

A usual suspect