Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Civilized Discourse

The Herald takes pride in the civilized discourse among its readers tucked away in the Letters to the Editor column each day.

For the most part, we let the dialogue run its course. The voices are diverse and mostly wonderful. It's a place for both the thoughtful and the kooks to make public their observations.

We try not to meddle much, but meddle we must at times. Unfortunately, we get letters that are too obviously loose with the facts, too nasty in their tone or too ugly in the ad hominem. Even then, we will work with the writers, asking them to provide proof of outlandish assertions or demanding that they tone down the ugliness.

Sadly, many of the more unreasonable writers of letters believe that the hogwash they've submitted deserves consideration as an amendment to the Holy Grail. And they don't take kindly to our suggestions that they take the hogwash out. Because we want to help prevent them from humiliating themselves in a public venue, they will accuse of us of being nutcase liberals, mouth-breathing conservatives, anti-semites, anti-Americans, anti-babies.

There's no limit to the ugly names we've been called by people over their incoherent letters — and the more incoherent the letter the more likely the writer will shower us with their bilge when we try to help.

In the end, we do try to let writers get as many of their deep thoughts into the paper as possible. Sometimes to a fault.

Last week, for instance, we let in an assertion by a letter writer that a clergyman with whom he's been sparring in the letters column called him a "bastard" in a private telephone conversation.

The rabbi insists that he did not use the word and the letter writer insists that that's what he heard.

And because The Herald had no way to verify who said what to whom, we should have eliminated the sentence from the letter before it was published. The editor involved, Royal Calkins, says he was simply trying to be fair to both of the feuding parties and had managed to persuade both of them to excise some of the more intemperate remarks from their letters. In retrospect, he agrees he should have pressed harder.

In the meantime, and at the risk of sounding like a prima donna, I suggest that letter writers take a deep breath and run a lap around the block before sending us your profundity wrapped in vitriol.

1 comment:

  1. And, anti-puppies and anti-kittens. I had to defend a letter to the editor case once. Expensive lesson for all concerned.