Wick Communications

Letters, we get letters…

In Editorial pages on 2 May 2013 at 4:15 pm

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Say a guy writes a letter to the editor. The guy says President Barack Obama plans to send military aid to the Palestinians as part of a plot to destroy Israel. Would you run that letter?

Maybe that one’s too easy. Say another guy writes in. He wants readers to know that the Boston bombing plot was directed by Jihadists bent on the destruction of America. Is that getting in your newspaper?

Put it this way: Do we have to run every letter to the editor that comes our way?

I got to thinking about this stuff when I read this response to the problem in the Kansas City Star:

Letter writers not responsible for their own fact checking

April 20, 2013 · adastrum.kansascity.com · Two readers contacted me today about a letter in the Opinion section that contained an egregious error: the statement that Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan called for the elimination of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. That’s quite far from the truth. In fact, the Ryan proposal doesn’t cut Social Security at all, though it does propose changes. The plan does include Medicare and Medicaid cuts, but so does President Barack Obama’s. A correction is coming tomorrow, and I’ve removed the…

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I guess I mostly agree, but I think the author glosses over the difficulty. You want folks to feel free with opinion based on fact, but it can be a nuanced thing this separating the good ones from the goofy ones. It also takes a deft hand to help letter writers understand your reasoning and to help them get their opinion into a form you can use. …

Here’s what I’m talking about. Say that first guy now says he believes Obama drew his “red line” in the sand over chemical weapons as an excuse to energize our country’s military industrial complex. Such a letter might get in our paper now. That’s because he has an opinion as to motive based on fact and not pure fantasy.

Bottom line: You want to encourage debate in your pages. One of the ways you do that is by discouraging mindless shouting that drowns out serious debate. I think that is at least as important as the simple act of fact-checking letters.
What do you think?

(Incidentally, I imported this post from Spundge, where you can find other stories I curate on the media.)

— Clay

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