We love getting letters to the editor. Sometimes it can be exhausting and tedious to fit them in the confines of a page. It can be frustrating to get those phone calls asking, “Where is my letter?” But we love getting letters that add to the dialogue.
With the local elections looming, we’ve been getting lots of letters, so this is the perfect time to discuss our process.
It’s important to note that we don’t vet the letters to the editor. We don’t pull letters if we disagree with them. We don’t fact check the assertions like we would in our news coverage.
Unless the letter veers into libel or slander territory (and if you’re a candidate, you have to realize the rules of slander and libel are much broader than if you were a private citizen), we let our pages become a mixed martial arts cage of ideas duking it out. We let our readers discern what they want to believe and what they want to dismiss.
If people abuse this privilege, our philosophy may change, but we believe a newspaper should be a forum for its readers.
On the other hand, we need to quote Benjamin Franklin when it comes to the class of 2015 political letters: “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.”
This is directed toward the letters, we call “the nice guy letters.” These are the letters that recite the “great” qualifications of a particular candidate. Authors expound on what a nice man or woman the subject of the letter is. Many times, these letters are directed by the parties or the candidates themselves.
There are other times that these letters are filtered through a party spokesman that sifts through the letter to make sure that it tows the party line. Voters can usually spy television propaganda, but this type is a little harder to spot.
Our experience is there are few “spontaneous” letters from random constituents that are fond of a particular candidate. It’s rare when an unrelated person feels the need to shout it out to the world. These letters are typically coming from town committee members or friends of the candidates. Sometimes, we’ve even caught wind of candidates writing the letters themselves and asking someone else to sign them.
Now, if the letter writer signs their name to it, we’re going to go with the assumption they are the author. If someone is willing to take ownership of the letter, that satisfies our desire to ensure the veracity of the views. But we caution the general reader to peruse this type of letter with a little bit of care.
Consider the source and maintain a sense of cynicism when you take in the information provided by the writer. Watch for themes, and decide for yourself if it’s true, an opinion, or propaganda. It’s all part of the political game, and it’s not isolated to any particular election or issue. It’s not unheard of for us to receive postcards from certain interest groups where its membership signs their name to a prepared script.
We love letters to the editor, but we ask our readers not to consider these as their sole source for making a decision on Election Day.
We know some of the candidates have been going door to door pressing the flesh. They have made themselves visible at public gatherings. Ask them questions about the issues that are important to you. Vote for the ones who tell you what you need to know.
Always consider the candidate’s records and/or qualifications for the office? Are they the best person for the job? Or are they simply “nice?” We urge you to make an informed choice on Election Day.
The Observer wants to be part of your research, but as Benjamin Franklin noted, don’t always believe what you hear and be skeptical about what you see.