Dec. 17, 2001: Over the past month, I have made a number of speeches around the state.

The endeavor was time-intensive but well worth the effort. Nothing beats face-to-face communications.

I am not a demographer so my research may be statistically flawed, but I am satisfied that the people I have spoken to over the past few weeks represent a good cross section of rank-and-file Americans. My audiences were young and old, black and white, male and female. Through their questions and comments, I have a better idea of what is on their minds. Many are readers of this space, so I already had an inkling of how they felt about things before I showed up.

Nothing brought a stronger reaction from my audiences than their view of the media. The people I talked to simply don’t trust the media. They think the media are biased, which is why they didn’t want the Washington Post and the New York Times and ABC mucking around in the caves of Afghanistan. They don’t think the media are interested in doing a fair and balanced job of reporting on the war, but, rather, engaging in a game of “gotcha” with the Bush Administration.

This news is not good. The media serve a critical role in our society of protecting citizens from the potential abuses of government, but they seem to have lost touch with the American public – certainly the people with whom I talked. The media and the people who teach journalism students need to be concerned and need to get serious about restoring the public’s confidence. Otherwise, the people and groups who would like to throttle a free press are going to have a good shot at it one of these days, and the public isn’t going to give a damn. I find that prospect frightening.

People are outspoken in their conviction that natural gas deregulation is an unmitigated disaster and that Bubba McDonald and the boys at the Public Service Commission have done a lousy job of managing a lousy idea. If you have a yen to run for public office, you might want to offer for the Public Service Commission when the next election rolls around. It should be easy pickings. I suspect even Mullah Omar Whatshisname would have a reasonable chance of being elected to the PSC, given the way people are feeling right now.

Osama bin Laden and the zealots associated with him are viewed as nuttier than a bunch of Claxton fruitcakes, and people are delighted to see them exposed for what they really are – cowards that couldn’t walk their big talk. Not surprisingly, President Bush and his team have strong support for how they are conducting the war effort. This can’t be good news for the late-night comedians, special interest groups and media pundits who believe they have a divine right to tell us how we should feel.

Police officers and firefighters can’t take the following comment to the bank, but they are finally reaping the public respect they have long deserved. In my speeches, I talked about heroes. Before September 11, if you could hit a ball with a stick or if you put a plastic bowl on your head and knocked other people down – and pranced and preened a bit when you did – you were a hero. If you could sing or dance or act, you were a hero. No more. We know now that heroes dig through rubble for innocent victims and scour caves for bad guys. Heroes are Boy Scout leaders and schoolteachers, preachers and EMTs. Heroes give blood and deliver meals to shut-ins. They build houses for Habitat for Humanity. They organize walks to raise money for breast cancer research. They don’t make headlines or big bucks for their efforts. They do it because it is the right thing to do, a uniquely American trait. I saw a lot of heroes in the places where I spoke, and it felt good.

In summary, the people I talked to are solid, decent Americans. They want to live their lives in peace and wish that everyone else could, too. I am glad I took the time to speak to them and wish some other media people and Public Service Commissioners and ballplayers would deign to do the same. They just might learn something useful. I did.