Smoking out the answers

There's a school of thinking in journalism that every story has to include a voice for the pro and a voice for the con -- that there are two sides of every issue and they must be pitted against each other in the name of balance.

I'm not part of that school.

That's not to say I don't believe in fairness -- I'm as traditionally trained and experienced as the next journalist, so it's always the duty of the writer to inform the reader of what's important. I just don't believe that everything has to be structured like an angry debate in order to illuminate a particular issue. And that's why I really enjoy the Q&A format that we often use at Metro Weekly -- it gives the person being interviewed the space to thoughtfully answer questions, complete with elaborations or digressions, without the pressure to reduce a complex thought to a 15-word sound bite.

But there is the risk, in the case of particularly controversial subjects, that readers may not be satisfied with hearing just one "side" of a story. I've received and noticed some comments on my interview last week with Mark Lee that illustrate just that. While the primary thrust of the interview was the re-launch of his Lizard Lounge Sunday night party, it was obvious that I couldn't ask about Lizard without asking about the D.C. smoking ban, which Mark so publicly and adamantly opposed.

David Mariner, executive director of The D.C. Center, writes, "I'm of course happy to hear that Lizard Lounge is coming back," but takes issue with some of Lee's statements.

First, Mark suggests that there were "so many people in our community" that were not in support of smokefree workplace legislation. Of course, I would counter that virtually [every] recognized GLBT advocacy group in DC SUPPORTED smoke free workplaces.

Three GLBT organizations testified in support of this legislation, and others presented written testimony. Endorsers of smoke-free workplace legislation included: The Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, The National Coalition for LGBT Health, AQUA-DC (Asians Queers United for Action). Establishments that supported the legislation included Cafe Luna and Skewers, and the Duplex Diner.

Further, Mark claims that "this is a prohibition campaign by very well funded special interest groups." Please note that of the organizations listed above, none of them received any funding at all to support smoke-free workplaces. GLAA, Stein, AQUA, and Whitman Walker did not receive any money from anyone, and everyone involved supported smoke-free workplaces because it was the right thing to do.

And finally I would stress that for me personally, this was in no way about "dictating or governing other peoples' personal preferences." This was always about creating a safe work-environment and even-playing field for all employees in DC. The smoke-free workplace legislation wasn't so much an issue for those of us who have the luxury of working in smoke-free office buildings, but many folks who worked as bus-boys, waiters, and barbacks, benefitted from this legislation.

Obviously, even though the battle over the smoking ban is over, strong opinions remain. Naturally, being the fence straddler that I often am on these issues, I see (and saw) a lot of strong arguments on both sides: My libertarian, small-business-owner instincts make me wary of legislative efforts that can affect any businesses revenues; my status as an ex-smoker for the past five or so years makes me a fan of any smoke-free establishment.

Matt at Malcontent has a harsher take on both the interview and Lee's comments:

I know it seems counterintuitive: As libertarian as like to think I am, I just find something loathsome about fighting for someone's "right" to pollute the air in places that are public accommodations. Sean is clearly not the zealot on this subject that I admittedly am, and his interview didn't betray much bias one way or the other. Yet many lines of inquiry were crying out for follow-up -- areas where one could legitimately call bullshit on Mark Lee.

Fair enough criticism on me -- hitting follow-ups can get difficult in a long, free-form interview, and I encourage both myself and my staff writers to always try to do better. Again, my focus actually was the re-opening of Lizard, which, given that the smoking ban was passed into law two years or so ago, is actually the more newsworthy event.

As always, thanks for those who've written in. We're always glad to hear what you think. You can e-mail me directly at Metro Weekly.

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