Friday, August 31, 2007

Signature issue

Once upon a time, when I was editor of the Freeman, back in ancient times (the early 1980s), I established a policy regarding letters to the editor. It wasn't earthshattering, nor original, but it was necessary: If you want your letter published in our paper, you have to sign your real name and you have to let us know where to find you for verification.

That policy continues today, long after I handed off the baton to the next editor, also in ancient times (the late 1980s). The reason is quite simple: If you have an opinion to express in public, you ought to have the courage to tell readers who you are.

There have been remarkably few instances of readers violating the policy. Sometimes people forget or don't know about the policy, so we find them and obtain verification. Sometimes the people can't be found and we throw away their letters. And sometimes, I regret to tell you, people beat the system. It can happen (I'm not going to tell you how), but it can and it has, although not often.

The interesting part to me is that when there's a violation of our policy -- that is, someone writes under a fictitious name and it gets in the paper -- it's generally a letter about a political campaign or politics. Sort of tells you something about the anonymous politician and/or supporters who deliberately promulgate the deceptions, doesn't it?

In recent weeks, two letters have been challenged by a local candidate and his backers. They say the writers used phony names. I can't swear that they're right -- we obviously thought otherwise or we wouldn't have published the letters. One of the writers has been published on our pages several times before without the authenticity of his name questioned.

But if, in fact, one or more writers snookered us, shame on us. More importantly, if one or more writers snookered us, shame on them.

Our Opinion pages are forums for ideas and points of view in the form of cartoons, letters, columns and editorials. All opinions are welcome, even if we don't agree with them. Heck, I often tell people if we only published letters with which we agreed, there'd be a lot fewer letters in the paper.

We rely on the goodwill and fair play of our contributors to play by the rules. But as we know, in this crazy world of ours, some people are serial rules breakers. Again, shame on them.

That having been said, I'm not moved by the sanctimonious politicians or supporters who castigate us for enabling people to beat the system. "Be more careful," they cry.

With apologies to Steve Martin, well, excuuuuuse me!

We made the policy. We don't want it broken. On the other hand, there's nothing to say we couldn't have a wide open door policy, that is to say, one that welcomes all comers, including anonymous letter writers. We don't do that for obvious reasons, but we could.

Fact is, if someone writes a letter and uses a phony name, the point of view he/she is expressing typically already is in play, especially during political season. That an unauthorized letter writer doesn't have the courage to sign a real name doesn't mean that the same opinion couldn't be expressed by others who do abide by the rules.

In short, let us worry about the letters policy. It's ours and we try to enforce it.
But if we fail on rare occasions (and they have been rare occasions), get over it.
comments powered by Disqus

<< Home