Friday, December 30, 2005

Do letters to the editor need to have any standards?

Many years ago, when I lived down south, I wrote a letter to my local newspaper, pointing out how the Boy Scouts of America discriminated against not only gays, but atheists. This wasn't meant to be a bombshell of an observation; it was well known and was (and still is) the official policy of the BSA. No big secret.

When my letter was published, I was infuriated to find that the editors had added an "editor's note" at the bottom, explaining quite simply that I was wrong and that the BSA had no such policy. In effect, they published my letter, then called me a liar. Assholes.

When I phoned the editor to ask what right they had to add editorial comments like that, he said that "several" of the editorial staff discussed it, and they decided that they had the right to disagree with my claim. Fascinating, I replied. Does that mean, I asked, that you will do the same when people write in, making demonstrably ludicrous claims about biological evolution? It sure sounds like that's what you're saying, I pointed out.

Well, he hemmed and hawed, there was still some debate as to the policy they would settle on regarding letters that they thought contained falsehoods. How convenient.

Which brings us to an article over at Jeff Shallit's blog, in which Jeff dismantles a recent letter writer to the local paper. It's not Jeff's dismantling that's of interest, of course; it's why that letter was published in the first place when it's such glaringly obvious bullshit.

I don't think it's unreasonable for someone to track down the letters editor at the paper, and ask whether they have any intellectual standards whatsoever for letters that they publish. Certainly, anyone who's followed the evolution controversy over the years can recognize the mind-numbing stupidity in that letter. But is that the kind of letter that's so stupid, it shouldn't even be published?

(Let me emphasize what the issue is here. We're not talking about a difference of opinion. We're talking about someone who's just flat-out wrong. There's a difference.)

Well? Does the Record have any standards at all? Or is it a case of anything goes? I'd be fascinated to know if there's a limit to the Record's tolerance for utter nonsense.

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