One thing in my job at the newspaper is always certain: There will always—always—be critics.
Once again, my “favorite” critic (yep, here there be air quotes!) has piped up to claim (yet again) that I “systematically” reject letters that portray Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton negatively and welcome all anti-GOP letters regardless of veracity. He cites as proof a letter from someone who surmised what Republicans are against, apparently not realizing that the writer based his assumption, as noted in the letter, “on their actions and proposals.”
It seems the idea of assumptions and hypotheticals is a little much for some … at least if they’re made by the “other side.” My critic has been proven wrong several times before, such as on the breakdown of letters printed by partisanship (on average, pretty much a third Democratic, a third Republican and a third independent/nonpartisan, very similar to the breakdown in the latest Arkansas Poll).
Not that it matters when your letters are the ones rejected because “facts” don’t check out, or the letters are hostile or libelous. And no, I have no intention of doing yet another count for this guy.
So let’s go through this again: Letters to any newspaper should first be considered as opinion … but that doesn’t mean you can say just anything you want. We get all sorts of letters accusing various public figures (and sometimes private individuals) of something untoward, but the letters generally are not printed unless there’s been an admission and/or it’s well-documented. Other publications have looser rules on this than we do, but we’re sort of allergic to lawsuits.
If you say someone is a criminal, that person better have been charged and found guilty of a crime. (No, Hillary has not even been charged with bribery, murder or any of the other crimes people accuse her of, so no, you can’t call her a criminal in our newspaper. Please, Clinton Body Count followers, get in touch with reality.)
If you say someone is frequenting a brothel, there’d better be proof. (One letter-writer maintains that a GOP candidate is paying hush money to a brothel to keep his infidelity secret. Nope, also not printed.)
Simply not liking someone is not proof of evil. Horns might be … and no, that’s not a horn on my forehead, it’s a “love lump” from the furry one. It’ll go away with antibiotics. I think.
What seems to keep happening with my “friend” is confirmation bias, that tendency to seek out and interpret information that backs up what you already believe, regardless of what’s actually true. If all you look for is tiny goats in tutus, that’s all you’ll find.
And no, I have no idea where those goats came from. But they’re adorable, as are the bunnies, kitties and assorted other furry critters in dance gear.
However, the political tropes that have been passed around and largely debunked in this campaign and others (and often cited in letters to the paper) are not goats-in-tutus cute. They’re not even rattlesnakes-in-tutus cute. And no, I could find no pictures of rattlesnakes so attired (thank God).
If you believe the stories, Donald Trump told People magazine in 1998 that he’d run as a Republican if he ever ran for president because “they’re the dumbest group of voters in the country.” Didn’t happen, despite claims in unpublished letters we’ve received, and even though it sounds like the sort of thing he’d say … except he’d also call them yuge losers.
You might also believe the rumor that Trump said he supported government-sponsored health care for everyone … because you believe the much-edited ads that say so, taking all context from the original 60 Minutes interview in which he said he supported that care for the bottom 25 percent who couldn’t afford private insurance. Everyone, bottom 25 percent … same difference, right? And yet, we’ve gotten letters claiming he meant everyone.
Seriously, guys, Trump has actually done and said plenty of things to be ashamed of, so there’s no need to make things up. And of course Trump is hardly the only candidate who has both told falsehoods and had them told about him.
One commenter on the newspaper’s website always likes to note that, among other things, Hillary never owned property until she and Bill left the White House (I count at least two homes in Fayetteville and Little Rock long before then), that she’s essentially a barely functional idiot (because she’s a woman and, ya know, we’re all dumb), and that she never held a real job without Bill’s help (let’s see … private law practice, law school faculty, her work with Marian Wright Edelman, etc.). Which is fine as far as sexist rhetoric goes, but it’s false, as are many of the other overblown scandals involving the Clintons. As I’ve said many times before, Hillary isn’t exactly likable, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to just flat-out lie about her or anyone else.
And nope, I’m still not a fan.
In January, Bloomberg View’s Cass R. Sunstein mentioned a study by Michela Del Vicario and others published late last year. In that study, focused on Facebook users, the users had the tendency to pass along messages that they accepted as fitting with their beliefs, and disregard those that did not.
The researchers found that “users tend to aggregate in communities of interest, which causes reinforcement and fosters confirmation bias, segregation, and polarization. This comes at the expense of the quality of the information and leads to proliferation of biased narratives fomented by unsubstantiated rumors, mistrust, and paranoia.”
What’s a little paranoia between Facebook friends?
I get enough of that in the crazier letters we get; I don’t need Facebook.
So do I systematically discard anti-Hillary and anti-Obama letters and freely publish anti-GOP letters that are false? Nope, but I and/or Stephanie fact-check some pretty outlandish claims and toss those that turn out to be false, regardless of partisan leanings (some of which we really, really wanted to be true, too!).
Sometimes it takes a while to fact-check, and when we run into too many roadblocks, we often have to move on to other letters so we can get a page out (which is why originality, attribution and providing links to documents goes a long way toward getting letters in).
Some days we’ll have more liberal letters, some days more conservative, and some days (rare indeed) that there’s nothing about politics at all.
We don’t follow quotas, which are highly unrealistic, but instead work with what we have at the time. Then again, for some people the unrealistic is their ideal reality.
Perhaps they should get into politics.