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Dead animals ruffle feathers in Lincoln

By: Liz Kellar
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Readers of the Lincoln News Messenger certainly can't accuse the paper of being in a predictable, safe rut. The last few weeks have seen more controversy in the pages of the paper than have been seen in quite a while (can you say dog park?) As previously discussed here, the paper's coverage of the Dennis Olsen trial generated some anger. So I was already feeling a little gun-shy when I received a letter by one Bonnie Caps. If you missed it in last week's edition, Caps wrote in because she was appalled at the dead animals hanging on the walls of Kim's Country Kitchen. I suspected the letter would ignite a storm of protest “ and I was right. By Thursday morning, people all over town were talking about the attack on the popular local restaurant. One particularly irate gentleman even came in to cancel his subscription “ and by Monday, we had received more than a dozen letters castigating Caps in tones that ranged from bemused to offended. There obviously are some people in town who feel that the News Messenger should not have published the letter in the first place. But I cannot “and will not “ discriminate against one letter versus another, as long as the letter follows our guidelines for publication. Our editorial policy is as follows: anonymous letters will not be published and letters will be edited for length, clarity, accuracy and libel. Here's the sticking point. Libel is defined as the publication of anything injurious to the good name or reputation of another. But the defamatory statement must be a matter of fact, not an opinion. And it should be obvious that Caps' statement that having dead animals on the walls of restaurants is wrong is her opinion, not a statement of fact. I cannot choose to publish or not publish a letter based on whether or not I agree with the opinion of the letter-writer. For the record, there are no hunters in my immediate family and I personally would never hunt recreationally. But I have lived in enough hunting communities that I respect that choice for others. And after three years in the heart of exotic game ranch country in Texas, stuffed animals of any description do not faze me. In fact, I took my son to view the stuffed giraffes and antelopes on display at some of the more flamboyant taxidermists in the town where we lived. And one of my favorite encounters, in my first week in Texas, was with an amateur taxidermist who was anxious to show off his best work “ his friend's German shepherd. On a more serious note, it quickly became clear to me as I read the letters that came in this week that the dead-animals-on-a-wall flap was symptomatic of the deep division that continues between longtime residents of Lincoln and newcomers. I don't know if Caps is actually a recent immigrant to Lincoln, but many readers assumed that she was. And they were offended that a transplant to the community would be so quick to judge their way of life. I don't know what the answer is. I see these divisions in many aspects of Lincoln, with misunderstandings and assumptions on both sides. To newcomers and oldtimers alike, I would say, don't be so quick to label. It's far too easy to pigeonhole other people “ and it's far too easy to take offense.