Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Responsibilities Of Editorial Page Editors

I'm throwing this question out for debate: what are the duties of newspaper editorial page editors when it comes to pointing out factual mistakes in Letters to the Editor? Do they have any moral responsiblities at all, as long as they have a statement that letters don't reflect their views, and they print later letters that point out the errors? Or should they put in an "Editor's Note" after clearly false claims stating that the writer is in error? What do you think?

I got thinking about this when reading the letters in yesterday's Idaho Statesman, and the top letter in this group made the "Barack Obama is a Muslim and went to a Wahabbi school" claim that's been thoroughly debunked. (Note: While I'm not supporting Sen. Obama for President under any conceivable circumstances, I do support the truth.)

Update 0827 13 June: I really appreciate Kevin Richert, the Idaho Statesman's Editorial Page editor, stopping by to offer his thoughts. (Truth be told, I appreciate all my commenters.) DFO from Huckleberries Online (on Spokane's Spokesman-Review website) opened up a parallel discussion over at his place, and offers his newpaper's policy on obvious LTTE errors:
We won't knowingly print a letter to the editor that contains false information. I've received calls from our letters editor asking me about claims made in Idaho letters. Occasionally, misinformation does slip through, however. Of course, many readers mistake opinion for fact. Also, we have kicked out letter writers who plagiarize other material.
I know the Statesman calls the writer of each LTTE to confirm that they actually submitted it. I'd like to see them at least inform the writers of obvious falsehoods that their letter contains a clear error, and ask them if they'd like to change it before they get flamed. Some people might actually not know that they have bad data; others, of course, are intentionally putting out disinformation for political or other reasons.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Interesting question, and editorial page editors wrestle with it.
Our policy is that we do not attempt to verify all facts in all letters. We published 5,201 letters in 2006, and it's simply impossible for us to verify every factual statement in every letter.

I do find that the process polices itself. When writers catch a factual error, they call the author on it. In the case of the letter about Barack Obama, I've already received a couple of letters challenging the premise of the first letter. And, of course, those letters will appear in the paper.

Kevin Richert
editorial page editor, Idaho Statesman

6/12/2007 11:06 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an excellent question.

You walk a fine line between what's opinion and fact sometimes.

In Moscow, man-made global warming is being sold as a "fact". If the editors were to screen out all opinions that run contrary to Al Gore's Inconvenient movies, where would that leave us?

I concur with Kevin -- the system polices itself with follow-up letters that prove the original one is factually in error.


6/12/2007 2:33 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I say apply the fairness doctrine! Publish next to that Obama's a Muslim letter ones that say Romney's from a Satanic cult that doesn't believe in Jesus, Thompson's wife's a stripper, and Hillary's a lesbian!

Then we all win!

(I'm trying this as anonymous. Alas, my identity, it's been taken from me.)

6/12/2007 2:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hilary is a lesbian stripper! No way1

6/12/2007 10:03 PM


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