There are times I’m pretty sure some people in the state think we’re having an earthquake when, really, it’s just me laughing so hard that even the ground shakes. New Madrid Fault? Nah, just Bren.
Why, you ask (or even if you don’t)? That would be because we sometimes get letters here that are so incredibly wrong about our policies on the Voices page that it’s impossible not to laugh … or not to base a column on them.
Myth #1: No political discourse allowed.
Really? In case you haven’t noticed, this is a letters page, which along with many, many letters discussing the politics of the day includes two columns that are political at least 95 percent of the time.
Oh, wait a minute … perhaps you just meant your political discourse. OK, yeah … when it’s full of statements of “fact” that that have disproved by multiple fact-checkers using original sources. It matters not to me what you say, as long as it’s clearly opinion or fact and printable in a family publication.
We have gotten more letters than we used to from people who had been frightened off from the page, some because of the bullying they received from other letter-writers, which sometimes included letters or phone calls to their homes. Perhaps the widening of the points of view presented is what’s bothering you.
Myth # 2: All letters are opinion only.
Except when they’re not. Where we end up in trouble is when something is stated as fact when it’s not necessarily so. Saying something over and over again doesn’t make it so, which is why I’m not a fabulous, skinny 25-year-old with everything I’ve ever wanted (Damn, damn, damn!).
We’re limited by the facts of the world in which we live, not the world of fantasy (paranoid or not). Conflating opinion with fact is a dangerous road.
Myth #3: “Fact-checking” is just a way to keep out letters you disagree with.
Um, no, and if I printed only what I agreed with, the Voices page would be an extremely hard page to fill.
Statements of fact (not opinion) are checked, with leeway given for broader statements. For example, you can say that Hobby Lobby denies birth-control coverage to women in its employ, as long as you don’t include words like “any” or “all,” because it denies coverage of four forms it believes to be abortifacients (but which are not, according to the FDA and other medical experts, which is why those four forms are on the approved list in the first place).
I’ve said before that we have a small staff (two), and we don’t have access to every source of documentation, or the luxury of spending hours on each letter we receive that contains statements of fact. When we run up against something we can’t find, such as an obscure study, we may ask the letter-writer for the documentation so that we can speed along the process of getting in a letter.
Sometimes, it’s no problem, and the letter-writer sends us a copy of his source (no originals, please; we don’t want to lose something that might be precious to you).
Other times, the writer can’t give us the source when asked, or can only give us a page number of something we still can’t get. When that happens, we usually have to cut our losses and move on to other letters than can be more readily documented. If we were a monthly publication and had a larger staff, that might be different.
Myth # 4: No talk of guns, religion or abortion allowed.
Uh … have you read this page? Really, have you? I can’t think of a single day when at least one of those topics didn’t show up on the page.
Myth #5: If your punctuation or grammar is bad, your letter will be tossed on the scrap pile.
Again, have you read this page?
Regular readers know I’m far from a grammar snob or the grammar police, and if I threw out all the letters (or columns) with bad grammar and/or punctuation, I’d have very little to fill the page. Punctuation seems to be the biggest problem most letters have in common, ranging from spaces before but not behind commas to completely random punctuation.
As long as I can figure out what you’re trying to say (and Stephanie or I may contact you if we’re befuddled), it’s not a problem, and we’ll fix punctuation and grammar if needed so other readers can hopefully understand.
Myth #6: No quotes (Bible or otherwise) or paraphrases allowed.
Hmmmm … wow.
If you mean no quotes that aren’t properly attributed (like the endless list of Thomas Jefferson quotes that he didn’t actually say), true. However, quotes—as long as they’re not the entirety of the letter and were actually said by that person—are definitely allowed, though we won’t use a chapter-verse citation for a Bible verse.
What isn’t allowed is a paraphrase with quotes around it, making it appear to be an actual quote. Paraphrases are certainly allowed, but not with quotation marks since those are your words, not those of the person to whom you refer.
From “myth take” to mistake, this one wholly mine.
A letter I printed last week contained what appeared to be a Bible verse in quotes, but it wasn’t quite. It was more a paraphrase of several similar verses.
I knew what the writer meant, and I had intended to remove the quotes (as we do with paraphrases, remember), but it didn’t happen. I often mark needed edits on the original letter to remind myself, but failed to do that this time.
For that, I am sorry. I wish I could say I won’t make another mistake, but I know that’s an impossibility as I’m human (not a demon, sorry).
All I can promise is to watch myself more closely … and maybe get some more sleep. Yeah, that’d be good.