Walk Toward the Fire

Unpopular truth is fire to cold hearts—my sign-off from Checkpoint News.

By Isaac Willour

 

EiC’s note: This is my last article as editor-in-chief of Checkpoint News. Before we get into the actual op-ed-ing, two things bear saying. Firstly, thank you to my excellent managing editor Corey Kendig, along with my social media manager and podcast co-host, the stalwart Rena Mainetti, and all of the IFF staff and writers over the past year. It’s been great to see the site grow in readership, and I look forward to the work of Checkpoint’s wonderful new editor-in-chief, Katelyn Livorse.

Secondly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to our readers. The craft of writing is, at its heart, a service to the reader—you are why we do this, and without you, this whole endeavor of crafting commentary would truly be meaningless. Thank you for your continued support of the Institute for Faith & Freedom that allows us to bring this to you. It’s been an honor. –Isaac Willour

And now, what you came here for.

 

Burned to Death

There’s a surreal sense you get from asking what it feels like to kill another human being. Yet, talking with Ron, it ended up being the least difficult question I got through in our hour-long conversation. I was working as a reporter at the time, writing a long-form piece on the victims of American capital punishment. Being a good reporter, who do you go to with a topic like that? The executioners. Ron McAndrew oversaw the execution process at Florida State Penitentiary and told me about his worst day on the job. During what should have been a simple but grisly execution of a convicted murderer, the sponge intended to conduct electricity dried out, becoming tinder for a ball of blue and orange fire that consumed the man under the copper helmet.

The inmate burned to death over the course of 15 minutes—three feet away from where Ron was standing. It would be the final straw for him. After Ron’s trauma manifested itself in substance abuse and nightmares of execution victims sitting on his bed and staring at him, he left the prison industry, becoming an outspoken advocate against capital punishment. 

 

Framing Reality

That wasn’t the story I went into our interview prepared to hear. And I don’t think it was the story my conservative readers expected me to lead with. Yet I opened the article with that story, not because I loved it—but precisely because I hated it. My job wasn’t to write about what I wanted to hear, or to give readers exactly what they wanted to hear. My job, as I understood it, was to tell real stories, about real people, for real people. I was 21. The best I could do was ask good questions and trust that honest framing of reality could carry the day. 

 

The Tapestry

I’ve heard stories, and asked questions, of Antifa members, war criminals, Ukrainian refugees, West Virginian coal miners, Hong Kong expats, free speech advocates, antisemites, fatwa holders, DEI practitioners, and everyone in between. I can only look back on those moments as beneficial. They’re part of the tapestry that’s made my cultural and political outlook diverse in the best possible way.

As useful as the past four years of liberal arts education have been to me, they weren’t what taught me about the intricacy and complexity of lived experience. Journalism did. The liberal arts, after all, are about learning what to do with freedom (that’s what liberal means). Dabbling in journalism has been a tremendous primer in understanding how people from all walks of life make use of the freedom given to us, for good or ill. In a way, it’s that profoundly human immersion that makes the perfect antidote to the worst stereotypes of liberal arts education: the temptation of endless navel-gazing and speculations, locked carefully within our ivory tower walls. That’s not a world that people like Ron live in—it’s the real world. 

 

In Closing

And now, a bit for those in the real world. I’m not qualified to end this column with advice—few 20-somethings are, and I am no exception. If there’s one thing I can leave you with, however, it’s this. 

There’s tremendous value in saying what everyone in the room is thinking—in the best moments, it’s moral courage. Yet, don’t forget the value of saying what no one in the room is thinking—the uncomfortable truth, or cultural blindspot that no one else has eyes to see. In the darkest moments, it’s light to darkened eyes, and fire to hardened hearts—and the most morally courageous thing you can possibly do. In the words of veteran journalist Andrew Breitbart, “Walk toward the fire.”

Signing off. Thanks for reading.

 

About the Author

Isaac Willour is a marketing fellow at the Institute for Faith and Freedom and the editor-in-chief of Checkpoint News.  He is a corporate relations analyst at Bowyer Research. He’s also an award-winning journalist, with work featured at USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and C-SPAN. He tweets @IsaacWillour.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer alone. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grove City College, the Institute for Faith and Freedom, or their affiliates.

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