August 8, 2002

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if there was a limit on the amount of mail a person could receive? This past couple of weeks I'm sure the local carriers would have been happy if there was such a restriction because I think they may have needed an extra bag to hold all the letters to the editor sent to the Memphis Democrat. Geez, you would think I wrote an offensive editorial or something.

Actually it's just election time. About the time folks are gearing up to head to the polls we are inundated with dozens and dozens of political ads disguised in the form of letters to the editor. Everyone wants to tell you why you should vote for this candidate, or why you shouldn't approve this new tax or that requested law change.

Our editorial policy specifically states that "no letters of a political nature are allowed during campaigns. Any material of this nature, during this time frame, must come in the form of a paid advertisement." The only exception to this rule is to allow direct rebuttals to any editorials or news items published in the newspaper.

The letter to the editor forum is meant to allow readers to express their opinions. One might argue that we are limiting folks with our policy, as they are not allowed to voice their mind about political issues during voting periods.

It's all about influence. These letters are attempting to influence you to vote one way or the other, the same way a store tries to influence you to purchase items from them by running an advertisement in the paper. We don't allow merchant's to run letters to the editor praising their products or informing readers of new, lower prices. It's their opinion that more people should shop at their store. But that's not a letter to the editor.

That's why this newspaper has implemented our editorial policy (which is published from time to time in the paper to keep our readers informed of the rules). If you want to sing the praises of your candidate, then get out the checkbook and buy an ad. If your special interest group is going to cash in on new tax revenue if voters pass it, then they should pay for an ad to ask voters to approve the measure for them.

The problem is, these letters come in the week before the election. They boast about their side of the issue, telling you all the good, and often times leaving out any bad. As a newspaper, it is our job to present both sides of every issue. If we allow these one-sided letters, especially the week prior to the election, there is no time to respond to present the other side of the issue. So we end up with readers (voters) who are misinformed or at least only partly informed. I suspect there would be plenty of upset voters if they cast their ballot for an issue, only to learn the week after the election that there was a whole other side of the story they did not know about.

Sure this policy affects some letters that probably should be printed, but we must be consistent and fair to all. Okay now if that argument hasn't made you understand our rules, I guess I'll be forced to pull out the big gun, you know the one you always used to hate to hear from mom and dad. Letters to the editor of political nature will not be accepted during election periods because - I said so!

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