And a Few Words About Recent Letters to the Editor
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
This publisher received more than one anonymous mailing this past month, and many letters by email that were not anonymous but sent as letters to the editor, concerns about which are discussed on our letters page (see page 6) and here.
There’s something certain people ought to know. First of all, we bear the cost of printing letters as a community service. We prefer to print letters that express genuine views arrived at by people who think for themselves and act on their own. That’s what this publication is all about. We are not so naive to believe that a raft of letters expressing similar intent miraculously materialize at the same time without someone prompting many of them (though not all) to be sent, if not writing some himself—evidence of which presents itself. We liberally print letters to the editor, as we are able, for the benefit of our readers, but the good will of this publication should not be taken for granted, nor our resources, in that such actions can have consequences.
Then there’s another matter, an anonymous accusation from a local Deep Throat of illegality, or attemp-ted illegality, on the part of local government. What to make of such a thing? We received a packet of offi-cial memoranda and emails that involve large sums of taxpayer monies, and an assertion that all has not been above board, although stating that outright would require greater legal expertise, resources and nerve than is so far available in this office, and probably in a lot of other offices, prosecutors included.
It’s an important matter, and we’re looking into it, but wouldn’t you know that Deep Throat drops this potential bombshell on us at the last minute as we go to press.
Frankly, we do not appreciate anonymous mailings. The implication is that we’re supposed to investigate and then accuse people of wrong doing. Yet, it is not we who are concluding that something was done illegally, it is the person lurking in the shadows. If that person wants to come forward and make a charge, we could perhaps report that he has done so—if the person is credible, an official or ex-official who is close to the alleged wrong doing, or a person with a great deal of credibility and expertise related to the matter in question—or if that person has a lawyer or prosecutor who can make a case and be quoted.
Deep Throat, furthermore, was not anonymous. He came forward repeatedly and answered questions (in a DC parking garage, as depicted in All the President’s Men). His identity may have been kept from the public, but not from the publication being asked to put its neck on the line.
Perhaps you can tell—these anonymous mailings we receive are bothersome, in part because we do often act as a watchdog on behalf of the public. But usually we reject anonymous letters, because, well, they’re anonymous. If you, my friend, are not willing to step forward and take the heat, why should we? We’re supposed to stake our good name on your issue, while spending time and money in the process, and make an argument, or build a case, that you won’t even put your name to. Not a great bargain.
We received another anonymous mailing regarding a legal complaint and judicial finding pertaining to a candidate in this month’s election. People should realize that the first thing we notice is that there’s no return address on the envelope, and no signature on the note. If you feel so strongly about this matter, having taken the time to mail copies of court documents, why do you not take personal responsibility? The answer is because then you would have to take personal responsibility. Yet, you think we (editor and publisher) should do so on your behalf, whoever you are.
Yes, the candidate had to pay court costs for a disorderly conduct finding a few years ago (but no fine, a sign the judge didn’t think much of the city attorney’s case). It was, in the end, a verbal argument between neighbors, and a he said/she said at that. The Enterprise ran a report on it, which is valid and in the public interest. We have nothing to add.
The moral of this story is that if you’re not willing to pony up with your name and reputation, don’t expect someone else to. But you’re a newspaper—that’s your job, they say. No, it is not. Our job is to report events we see fit to report and to offer commentary, and even commen-tary should be fact based. Human interest stories, for those who would quibble, are allowed greater leeway—but that’s our business, decid-ing what can be published.
We are, though, interested in tips, letters, and public input. And regarding such tips, you can maintain anonymity amongst the general public (at least at first), but you are not entitled to anonymity with us. Deep Throat, after all, supplied facts and information in person. You must be available for questions and follow up. If not, well, thanks for thinking of us, but don’t expect much without your participation.
Should Deep Throat want to meet and explain his or her level of expertise, background, and experi-ence, or even go on the record, we’re not hard to find. Otherwise, the investigation may be stranded, without a paddle, up the creek.