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A conversation between readers and the editor of The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What's your "fact-checking" policy on letters to the editor?

That was the basic question posed by a reader who then went on to take me to task for printing "falsehood laden letters all the time." That, he said, was an insult to readers' intelligence and to my obligations as a journalist. What set him off was a three-paragraph letter objecting to the health reform proposal under debate in Congress.
Letters of this type are "political speech" and the statements made in them are given wide latitude. In politics, one mans "truth" is another man's "lie." Think of that classic optical illusion where an image looks like a white vase against a dark background -- but it also looks like two dark faces staring at one another across a white void. It's one image (fact) but it has two entirely different interpretations depending on how you look at it. The "truth" and the "lies" in the health care letter and the reader's objection to it are like that.

Our Opinion Page has the duty to give voice to people's varied views on important issues. That's why we print letters on both sides of any given argument. We don't censor a letter-writer's opinion or interpretation of a political "fact." We give readers credit for having the intelligence to sort out the many differing opinions and interpretations and to make up their own minds.

Fact-checking is reserved mainly for challenging the absurd, such as if a letter stated that Lorain was the capital of the United States, or if someone wrote in thanking the pope for visiting Amherst.

The big problem I had with the little letter that started this discussion is that somehow, a typo snuck into the first paragraph, "Get" came out "et" -- now, that's a journalistic sin. Mea culpa.


Anonymous ohio_golfer said...

Many people have trouble distinguishing between FACTS and POINT OF VIEW. The internet has led to lazy people becoming experts; they believe anything they wish as long as they've seen it on the 'net.

We can thank Al Gore for the predicament we're in since he invented the internet. :)

March 13, 2010 at 4:51 PM 
Anonymous Loraine Ritchey said...

Or Ohio Golfer could it be that
Tim Berners-Lee had something to do with the Internet ;)

Don't believe everything you read... always more to the story :)

In some instances even when a vase is a vase or two faces have I ..... it will still depend upon the "perspective" of the writer ( could he write a piece on the vase or perhaps the two faces all being factual) as to the factual content being presented to the reader depends on the slant of the writer what he/she sees - that is why we have editors :) but supposing the editor has vase vision too .

... a quote put in an article even though it is an "accurate" quote can change the flavor of an article depending upon where it is put in an article and if the quote is "in total" ....... which is why print media has to have a high standard.

I am curious Tom, when I wrote internationally I was held to accountability under various "press councils" as were the publications for which I wrote.

"A PC is the best-known Media Accountability System (MAS). It can be found in all Nordic, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon democracies — as well as in countries as diverse as India, Chile, Israel, Tanzania and Estonia.

Normally, a PC brings together representatives of press owners, of journalists and of the public to examine complaints against the media — and to defend press freedom. Its only weapon is the publication of its judgments."

Do you think there is a need here in the US? I see there are four now

Honolulu Community Media Council
Minnesota News Council
Washington News Council
New England News Forum

Thoughts ??? Thank you

March 14, 2010 at 8:56 AM 
Blogger Tom Skoch, Editor, The Morning Journal said...

The fact that there are only four dinky "press councils" on the fringes of the United States after two centuries of American journalism shows what I think: Our system works without them. It's an "old world" thing we left behind in favor of the First Amendment.

March 15, 2010 at 11:01 AM 
Anonymous Loraine Ritchey said...

Time to rethink that I believe :) since you are now in the "global community " especially with the foray into the WWW :) you will be expected to follow the standards of the rest of the world too - no more isolationist thinking :) Loraine

March 15, 2010 at 2:30 PM 
Blogger Tom Skoch, Editor, The Morning Journal said...

It's my belief that the "global community" is going in America's direction. The more open the means of communication on the Internet, the less toleration people will have for self-appointed councils to be telling them what they can and can't write or think. The First Amendment is one of the best ideas any human beings have devised and the Internet is demolishing the ability of governments to ride herd on what people see, hear, say and think.

March 15, 2010 at 5:57 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just post both sides of your political vewpoints which, since yours is hard right wing then let another person post a rebuttle or alternate viewpoint.

If I wanna hear the now poplular Obama bashing sensationalism then I can listen to Hannity, Rush or Beck. At least Beck bashed Bush at one time.
Dont recall Skoch doing this while the banks almost shut down, he expanded government with the prescription drug plan, false WMD claims, etc.
No I'm not point the other way, I'm saying be CONSISTANT, I hate people who want it both ways just because a R or D is by a politicians name. Frankly both parties are worthless and let us down.

March 22, 2010 at 3:20 AM 
Blogger Tom Skoch, Editor, The Morning Journal said...

Anonymous said here almost two weeks ago "let another person post a rebuttle or alternate viewpoint."

Anyone's rebuttal and alternate viewpoint can be typed into the comment box below. Then hit the "Post Comment" button. That's all it takes.

April 3, 2010 at 12:11 PM 

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