Conspiracy theories about vaccinations, inflammatory remarks about race and religion, the “mind-altering” and “personality-changing” impacts of tobacco – all were subjects of letters to the editor this week.
Most of these are in the editor’s recycling bin.
Every once in a while we feel the need to address the content and tone of letters to the editor. The time seems to have come again.
What factors do we consider when we decide whether to accept a letter to the editor?
Here are some:
We do not allow name-calling. For example, we would likely accept a letter that says “Joe Selectman’s policies will damage the town’s fiscal health.” We would not accept a letter that says “Joe Selectman is a moron.”
We do not allow the old standby of the Hitler comparison unless the individual in question was or is a perpetrator of genocide. Find someone else to compare your least favorite politician to.
We will not print a letter if it includes objectively false information. For example, “I oppose the new development” is OK. “I oppose the development because it will destroy sensitive unicorn habitat” is not OK.
For a more realistic example, we will print a letter that says “I support philosophical and religious exemptions to vaccination.” We will not print a letter that says “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fills vaccines with mind-control serum to generate support for the Green New Deal.”
As the saying goes, you are entitled to your own opinion, not your own facts.
If you do present a fact-based argument, it sometimes helps to cite a source for your facts. Depending on the subject, an acceptable source might be a government document, a newspaper article, or a scientific paper. Unacceptable sources include blogs run by Russian propagandists, chain emails, and memes.
One factor we do not consider is whether we agree with the writer’s opinion. We welcome opinions from writers of all beliefs, political, religious, social, or otherwise, so long as they express those beliefs in a civil manner.
We prefer letters to come in under 500 words, but we do not enforce a strict limit.
We notice other newspapers in the area have much more restrictive policies on letters to the editor. We like the less restrictive practices we have here. We want the editorial page to reflect the diverse opinions in our community, not the beliefs of the editor or publisher or anyone else.
We accept upward of 80 percent of letters to the editor and would like to continue to do so.