Anyone who reads the Letters to the Editor published in the Democrat & Chronicle (no longer an easy thing to do since such Letters have been drastically cut back from seven to two days a week, and are no longer posted to the paper’s Facebook page, where public input was at one time valued) may have noticed that Letters critical of the D&C’s operations and views have been as scare as recent ferry trips to Toronto from the boondoggled terminal in Charlotte. The question of why there are no such Letters was indirectly answered a few days ago when I exchanged e-mails with the D&C’s “Senior Engagement Editor”, an exchange prompted by last week’s childish act of vandalism where some clod submitted his/her opinion of the paper’s veracity via spray paint on a plate glass window. So, as a Public Service Announcement, I’d like to provide information on what I learned so that anyone inclined to submit a Letter to the Editor expressing disapproval of the D&C may know the arbitrary obstacles which will doom their attempt. In response to my assertion that the D&C seemed to have a policy of censoring Letters which were critical of the paper’s operations, views, etc., I received the following:
“… we actually welcome and highly encourage letters that are in opposition to our editorials or other opinion content. These letters, of course, must be based on fact, offer substantiating evidence and meet our submission guidelines. We regularly print opposing viewpoints.”
Such a statement brought four points to mind:
1. Obviously the D&C management has reserved solely unto themselves the determination of what is, or is not, a “fact” or “substantiating evidence” (*). And of course the determination of the judges is final, and there is no appeal.
2. We should pass by in embarrassed silence any claim that they “regularly print” Letters taking exception to their positions. As stated above, few, if any, such Letters have ever appeared in print. Indeed, a review of the 59 Letters published in the last month reveals a grand total of ONE (1) letter (published on October 7) which could remotely be termed critical of the D&C, and only to the extent that it disagreed with the opinions expressed by one of the paper’s columnists. Significantly, that Letter provided nothing factual or any evidence substantiating the writer’s views. Amusingly enough, a Letter praising the actions of the D&C was published the same day. It will come as no surprise that it too failed to provide a shred of fact or evidence. Just the writer’s glowing opinion of the paper.
3. In the years-long absence of any evidence, dare I say substantiating evidence, to back it up, the D&C’s claim that, “we actually welcome and highly encourage” Letters critical of the paper remains little more than self-serving, journalistic bombast.
4. It appears from the response I received that the D&C only requires “facts” and “substantiating evidence” for Letters which directly criticize the D&C. Any politician, any business, any act of government, any person, place or thing on the planet EXCEPT the D&C, may be, and are on a weekly basis, criticized without “facts” or “substantiating evidence” being required. The consistent application of standards is conveniently ignored.
Given the above, I find it somewhere between sanctimonious and just plan sad that the Democrat & Chronicle waves around First Amendment freedoms by printing that amendment at the top of their opinion page, while simultaneously making it virtually impossible for dissenting views of the paper to find their way into print. Rather than arbitrarily forcing their undefined definition of “facts” and “substantiating evidence” into public discourse, the community would be better served if the paper replaced the First Amendment with a quote from Lincoln Chafee: “Trust is built with consistency.”
(*) Buried in the shrunken, twice weekly, sad and sorry remains of the D&C’s Opinion/Speaking Out page, is the warning notice that, “All letters and essays chosen for publication are subject to editing for length, clarity, and accuracy.” “Clarity” and “accuracy”, like “facts” and “substantiating evidence”, being defined when, and as, the Powers That Be see fit.