Occasionally I’ll get a letter from a reader that needs to be answered in a column. Last week, I received this letter from Carolyn Johnson of Little Rock:
According to the guidelines for having a letter published in the Democrat-Gazette, ”Statements of fact are checked for accuracy.” With that in mind, I wish to call to your attention a letter that was published on Saturday, May 21.
While the vast majority of the letter consisted of opinions and voting recommendations made by the writer, one statement in the letter caused me concern. It was made as a response to Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ assertion that we may never know the extent of fraud committed in the 2020 election. The statement reads as follows: “Hey Sarah, it has been determined,” and was followed by a link to the website for the film “2000 Mules.”
This so-called documentary by Dinesh D’Souza purports to prove that the 2020 election was stolen as a result of widespread voting fraud. However, according to experts, the methods used by D’Souza and his associate, Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote, were terribly flawed, totally unreliable, and proved nothing of the sort. I do believe the film did prove something: that disinformation and confirmation bias are alive and well in this country.
Did this “statement of fact” slip by your fact checkers, or are alternative facts now acceptable for publication? Either way, shame on you.Letter from Carolyn Johnson to Voices, May 2022
Thank you, Carolyn, for your question, and I’m more than happy to provide the reasoning for allowing that particular statement.
As you know, I’m a big proponent of fact-checking, and I’m a particular fan of sites like FactCheck.org and PolitiFact for the simple reason that those sites link to their sources so that readers can judge for themselves how accurate the analysis is.
In my Facebook posts asking for letters, I expand a little on the general rules for letters:
Whatever you send, try to keep it under 300 words (the average number of words that fit in about 7 inches of space). You should also ensure that your letter is publishable in a family newspaper (no obscenity or name-calling of fellow readers, nothing explicit or graphic you wouldn’t want to see over your eggs and bacon, no personal or business disputes or anything that might require legal intervention, no calling for the death of anyone …, etc.).
If you include statements of fact, please list your sources at the end so I can track them down, or attribute them to the source in the text of the letter (helpful hint: it’s a great way to get around the fact-checking rule; as long as I can verify that that person said it, no matter how factually wrong it may be, it’s printable IF attributed to them).A snippet from one of many of my pleas for letters and guest columns on Facebook
The letter-writer actually did, without prompting, what I’ve asked so many who have complained that their letters weren’t being printed because of fact-checking (which they believe is liberal-biased): Attribute the statement, in this case with a link. Readers can then check out the site/report/article/whatever themselves.
I won’t make a value judgment on the veracity of Dinesh D’Souza’s work, though I’d remind people to investigate, as Carolyn did, to see how trustworthy the source—any source—is before investing yourself too heavily. If a source relies too much on paper-thin connections and suppositions to make their case rather than actual evidence, it’s a waste of your valuable time.
I will say that in the case of the 2020 election, as I have documented in previous columns, there has been no proof thus far of the kind of widespread voter fraud that would be needed to turn a presidential election, according to the vast majority of election officials, many of them Republican (and many of whom thus faced death threats because of their avowals of a fair election), as well as numerous audits. There are always isolated cases, but they’re usually on the local/state level, and don’t involve the vast numbers of people and moving parts needed for the kind of fraud being touted by election truthers. Those who have been charged/put on trial/sentenced for fraud were caught because of measures already in place (but I guess those people who voted for Trump multiple times were just testing the system).
It’s a thin line, sometimes, deciding what is acceptable for the Voices page, and not everyone wants to follow the rules, so I have to give a little leeway. This was one of those times. (Note to those who list their sources: List actual sources, not general commands to Google [or “Goggle” … seriously] something. Google is a search engine, not a source.)
I’m just glad someone actually took my suggestion. Woo hoo!
Sometimes it’s the little things that make me happy.
I also occasionally get nice cards and other things from readers, and recently I received something from Beverly Florida of Little Rock that put a smile on my face.
It was a lovely bit of prose she wrote called “Summer Symphony” on a laminated card with a magnet:
“The rise and fall of a June Bug chorus ushers in summer twilight. What begins with a low solo then builds to a frenzied crescendo. A skinny grasshopper waves his stick baton and adds a chirp here and a chirp there. Then in the blink of a cricket eye, Mr. Conductor cuts a wide swath in the air, and everything is quiet. It all resumes shortly, second verse same as the first!”“Summer Symphony” by Beverly Florida
Thanks, Beverly! It’s now in a spot where I’ll see it every day.
😭 😤😭 😤😭 😤
And now on to Uvalde. I wanted to get the reader’s letter out of the way quickly in a column because lack of attribution/fact-checking is a recurring problem. Then again, so are mass shootings at schools. I’ve written about shootings before, and I just couldn’t make myself write another column about it. I will share some thoughts, though.
There have been so many things coming out about Uvalde that are infuriating, sad, and/or terrifying. The school and the police failed so horribly in this instance despite all the “hardening” of a so-called soft target, but so did every part of the system. The debate, as usual, points to nothing being done, again, because those who want reasonable gun regulations to be enforced can’t convince the Second Amendment/NRA absolutists that they wouldn’t endanger the rights of law-abiding gun owners, and some on the left refuse to budge on anything short of abolition.
C’mon, people! We can meet in the middle, and indeed that might be the only way we ever make headway on this problem, because doing nothing over decades hasn’t touched it. I saw a suggestion this week that the laws on rifles/assault-style weapons should be made consistent with those on handguns, and I think that’s a good idea.
According to the ATF website, “Under the Gun Control Act (GCA), shotguns and rifles, and ammunition for shotguns or rifles may be sold only to individuals 18 years of age or older. All firearms other than shotguns and rifles, and all ammunition other than ammunition for shotguns or rifles may be sold only to individuals 21 years of age or older. Licensees are bound by the minimum age requirements established by the GCA regardless of state or local law. However, if state law or local ordinances establish a higher minimum age for the purchase or disposition of firearms, the licensee must observe the higher age requirement.”
Why not make the minimum age requirement for all firearms 21 (with a possible exception for those 18 or older with a valid hunting license)? So many of the school shooters have been younger than 21, so that would surely help at least a little, and any progress is good.
There are other ideas out there that are worthy, but they’re not breaking through because of all the people who stop discussions with claims like these to try to divert attention from the idea of action:
🤬 It’s not a gun problem, it’s a God/morals/mental health problem.
It can’t be all of the above? Really? And don’t instantly blame mental health if you have no intention of making sure that affordable or free mental health help is available and easily accessible.
🤬 Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.
True, guns can’t do the shooting by themselves, but as I wrote in a Facebook post, “Guns are a tool to kill; that is their purpose. People with guns kill people a lot more easily than just about any other weapon.” A person with a gun is far more deadly than one without.
🤬 It’s Hollywood’s and video games’ glorification of violence.
But if you’re following the guidelines for who is mature enough to handle a lot of those movies, TV shows and video games, there shouldn’t be much of a problem, right? Sounds like a parenting problem to me. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.)
🤬 Criminals don’t follow the law/If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.
The laws we have aren’t being enforced as they should be, and in some cases have been defanged by those beholden to the gun lobby. Enforcement should be a priority, and that includes more funding for background checks. Very few people want to actually outlaw guns anyway.
🤬 The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Again, as I wrote on Facebook, “That’s what police are for; they’re trained for this, while the average Joe isn’t. And who judges who is the good guy? If police come upon a shooting scene and see a guy with a gun, they’ll probably take him out because HE’S A GUY WITH A GUN. They don’t know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy.”
🤬 Don’t punish law-abiding gun owners.
Enhanced background checks, red-flag laws, waiting periods, etc., will have little to no effect on responsible, law-abiding gun owners, and would in fact protect them along with everyone else. Of course, “responsible” in this case means, among other things, locking up guns and practicing gun safety, as well as teaching kids to respect guns, not worship them … and probably not amassing an arsenal (collecting historical guns for display is one thing, but private individuals purchasing large numbers of assault-style rifles, etc., is quite another, and doesn’t necessarily speak well for the mental health of the purchaser).
🤬 But what about Chicago/Los Angeles/wherever there have been a lot of shootings?
Yes, shootings happen everywhere, and they’re often worse in urban areas. Just the other day, a 7-year-old girl from Pine Bluff was shot and killed on the way to the Little Rock Zoo. However, those shootings are generally not comparable with mass shootings for reasons of motive, weapon used, etc. Making headway on stopping mass shootings, though, would likely have at least a little bit of effect on these isolated (meanly largely unconnected to each other) shootings because, for one thing, more attention would be given to them without the distraction of mass shootings.
NRA talking points aren’t going to win the day, and neither are calls for total bans. We have to move to the middle and at least try to make headway, as the vast majority of Americans want.
We also can’t keep ignoring the fact that mental illness, violent video games and movies, and differences in faith/morals exist everywhere, but only in the U.S. is there such a problem with mass shootings. Perhaps we should finally see that all those arguments are just trying to cover for the fact that access to guns in the U.S. is just too damned easy.
I’m past being sad, disgusted and angry. I’m ready for actual action.