Was this front-page news? Is Toby Keith Catholic?
A story, "How Toby Keith put Ribfest in political crosshairs" drew this online comment:
"Why is the Herald making this a front page issue? Don't we have enough problems in the world without making this a political time bomb?"
Let me take a stab at that one: Uh, because it's news?
Given the level second-guessing of the news media these days, it seemed a good time to explain a few things about what we put on the front page.
First of all, the Keith story was on Page 1 only in our DuPage County editions, which includes Naperville, where Ribfest is held. Unless something spectacular is occurring in the nation and world, we pick daily a locally produced story that we think will have the most interest among readers in a specific locale.
In this case, the Keith story ran on Page 4 in our Fox Valley editions and didn't make the Northwest suburban and Lake County versions.
On those fronts, we went with a story piece about a Northwest suburban-oriented book-of-the-year program aimed at cross-cultural understanding; on the Lake front page, it was referendums -- most of them having to do with tax increases -- appearing on the April ballot.
For the Fox Valley zone, a story about a chance for some students in the greater Elgin area to earn free college credits.
It's popular to kill the media messenger, so I get the complaint about "making this a political time bomb." Sure, we publicized what was going on. But I'd also say this: This is not fake news. We didn't make up the complaints, which started on the website of Ribfest's sponsor, the Naperville Exchange Club.
Some complained that Keith -- by virtue of some of his good 'ol boy lyrics, "Take all the rope in Texas, find a tall oak tree, round up all of them bad boys, hang them high in the street," was an inappropriate entertainer at a family-focused event such as Ribfest, dedicated to raising money to fight domestic abuse. Keith had played the song at Donald Trump's inauguration, which seem to further fuel the ire. In our print editions, you'll see two letters to the editor on opposite sides of the topic.
On top of all that, someone, presumably from the Exchange Club, started taking down the negative posts. That ratcheted up the protests even more, until the Exchange Club president put a halt to the deletions.
So, the protesters had their say in our story, but online reaction to the story was swift and emphatic. "The 'tolerant' left strikes again." "Looney left." "Their dislike of Toby Keith has nothing to do with the lyrics of a 12 year old song and everything to do with him performing at Trump's Inauguration. These cowards should at least have the stones to admit that." "Toby Keith did not put Ribfest in the crosshairs. the intolerant left and media did so."
But my favorite post was, "Why not invite the Dixie Chicks and call it a draw."
Texas-based Dixie Chicks, a county trio with a huge crossover following, received a big backlash in 2003 when lead singer Natalie Maines made a comment overseas about ex-President George W. Bush's plans to invade Iraq. "Just so you know, we're on the good side with y'all," she said. "We do not want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas." One prominent Maines detractor at the time was Toby Keith.
I'm sure we could debate all day about which side of the political spectrum is more intolerant. So, sure, accuse us of drumming up a controversy, giving the Looney Left a voice. Admittedly social media makes it much, much easier for someone unhappy with something to have a voice. All I can say is if, say, the Dixie Chicks and their left-leaning views were booked to play Ribfest and protests ensued, yes, we'd write about that. It's someone voicing dissent about one of the biggest festivals in the suburbs. That's news. That's what we do.
So, are the Toby Keith protests news?
Is the pope Catholic?