Did You Ever Want To Reach Right Through A Letters To The Editor Section And Slap A Letter Writer Silly?

When I see a letter to a newspaper published that is indefensible logically and ethically, I often wonder, “Why did the paper print this?” Was the reason that the editors thought the letter made good sense, in which case, “Oh-oh!” Was the reason that it spoke for many readers with similar delusions, and thus would inform other readers that this, however dim-witted, is a common attitude or perception? Or, most ominous of all, was the reason it was published that the editors know the letter is badly reasoned, but think it will persuade other readers to accept a view that advances the paper’s ideological and political agendas?

I believe editors of letters sections are obligated to rebut dumb or misleading statements, either with their own responses or with other letters. The news media should not make people more ignorant, more biased, more stupid, and more misinformed. That our current news media does this now as a matter of course, and often deliberately, is one of the prime reasons I view the label “enemy of the people,” as inflammatory as it is, as fair.

I was thinking about this as I read the readers’ letters to the New York Times about Elizabeth Drew’s recent op-ed arguing that Presidential debates should be eliminated. As I’ve mentioned here earlier, her position was disingenuous and laughable: What a coinkydink that progressive pundits are suddenly opposing debates when the Democratic Party’s candidate is obviously trying to keep the extent of his mental decline from voters! Naturally the Times, being the Times,  permitted just one letter to get to press that expressed that analysis; only two of the seven letters published referenced Joe Biden at all.

The second one of these was my favorite: it said that if Biden agrees to debate, “the bully ringmaster in chief” will “interrupt, insult, lie to and badger him incessantly.” This is hilarious, because the last time we saw Biden in a one-on-one debate (those recent depressing Democratic primary free-for-alls don’t count), that letter describes exactly how Biden was allowed (by moderator Martha Raddatz) to treat Paul Ryan. The night after the Vice-Presidential candidates debate in 2012, I wrote in part, as Ethics Alarms designated Joe Biden an Ethics Dunce,

The Vice-President’s performance in his debate with Paul Ryan was rude, uncivil, obnoxious and undignified… It made Al Gore’s eye-rolling, sighing act during his infamous first debate with George Bush in 2002 look positively restrained…Biden was needlessly snide, condescending (anyone condescending is bad; someone like Joe Biden condescending is incomprehensible) and disrespectful, in contrast to Ryan, who acted like high officials of the U.S. government are supposed to act, since they represent our nation and culture whenever they appear in public. The Vice-President made the entire debate unpleasant to watch, and worst of all, he further lowered the quality of political discourse in this election year.

But debates shouldn’t be held this time because President Trump would be rude to Biden.

I digress. The letter to the editor that sparked this post was one that agreed with Drew, and cited two reasons:

  • “Debates are like job interviews,” and job interviews are not as effective predictors of future job performance as past performance and experience, and
  • “Yes, do away with presidential sideshow and tell the electorate the real story.”

Anyone who has held job interviews should know that they are often misleading, and that glib, slick applicants can snow gullible and credulous interviewers. (Thus, don’t be a gullible and credulous interviewer.) But what employer in their right mind would hire an employee for an important job without an interview? OK, it’s not the best way to assess a candidate for a job; it maye evne be the worst.  An interview is still an essential part of the process. If a debate is “like a job interview,” and it is, then the writer rebutted her own position.

Her last statement, however, is what put the letter in “the too dumb to print category.” Who is going to “tell the voters the real story”? The New York Times? The same newspaper that buries information that might undermine trust in candidates and politicians its editors and reporters favor, while hyping stories that will create negative impressions of those they oppose? The same newspaper that announced during the last campaign that it would frame the news in order to ensure Donald Trump’s defeat?

There is no news source that has shown itself capable of or inclined to “tell the electorate the real story.” Any American who believes there is at this late date is too easily deceived  to be allowed outside without a leash. Americans must judge for themselves what “the real story is,” and educate themselves to be able to do so competently.

And that is why Presidential debates, flaws and all,  are indispensable.

11 thoughts on “Did You Ever Want To Reach Right Through A Letters To The Editor Section And Slap A Letter Writer Silly?

  1. I don’t know what happens now that there is unlimited digital space, but back in paper days letters to the editor were heavily edited by the paper. They’s usually have a little disclaimer somewhere on the page reserving the right to do that. The result would be a gutting of reasoning and evidence, so that the printed letter would state an issue and then jump right to the conclusion, while entirely skipping the thought process.

    It’s funny: I read this and that on the internet now, but back in the day that I subscribed to things I always thought that the letters page was the best way to tell quickly if the publication was any good. Smart readers, good magazine.

    • I’ve had many such letters published back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, and not once did the paper edit my submission other than to ask me to pare it back in terms of length. They didn’t do that for me, though.

      So I suppose it depends on the paper. I can only speak for the Louisville Courier-Journal, which is about as left-liberal a rag editorially as exists in any city, and has been for the entirety of my adult life.

  2. Yes, the interview process is risky, which is why it shouldn’t be the sole determining factor in hiring an applicant. The resume should be reviewed and vetted for accuracy; references should be contacted; behavior before and after the interview should be taken into consideration (I read one story about an applicant that did well during the interview, but didn’t get the job when his would-be employer found out that he’d been rude to the company’s receptionist when he arrived for the interview itself.)

    So, while the debate may not be perfect, we should (and could, if we had a news media willing to be impartial and informative) weigh the candidates’ performances against their previous experience, words and actions and how honestly they present themselves to the public.

  3. I try not to phrase it that way, because 1. reaching through a screen or a phoneline or whatever isn’t possible outside Looney Tunes, and 2. saying you want to do physical violence to anyone because of something they said usually makes you sound like you are either a. too angry to think straight (which I’ll plead guilty to being on numerous occasions) or b. off your rocker completely (not there yet). Frankly this doesn’t make me want to strike anyone, because it doesn’t come off so much as slap-worthy stupid as it does shrug-worthy predictable.

    For almost a decade now the Democratic Party and the political left generally have been moving from working within this country’s set processes when they can and around it when they can’t, to treating the processes as more of a guideline than a requirement, to throwing them aside altogether when they don’t suit their purposes or would stand in the way of their goals. On the penultimate day of 2012, Constitutional scholar Luis Seidman penned an editorial in the New York Times titled “Let’s Give Up on the Constitution,” arguing that since the Constitution had already been changed so many times, and was a document written by white men who thought slaver was ok, it should be done away with completely so as not to stand in the way of today’s hipper, cooler, smarter leadership who knew better. On the eve of the 2014 midterm elections (we know how those turned out), David Schanzer and Jay Sullivan published an opinion piece calling for the end of midterm elections, since they had the potential to hobble a president’s agenda. Then there was Harry Reid’s 2013 elimination of the filibuster for most appointees, the better to help Obama stack the courts with like-minded judges. I don’t remember any published articles that said this, but in the wake of the Garland fiasco I remember several comments talking about limiting the Senate’s power to advise and consent to require an up or down vote in 60 days or the appointee would go through automatically. I don’t think the idea came from nowhere. Now we’re seeing the 1619 project, articles talking about carving up DC into 127 new states, proposals to do away with the electoral college, legislation to make DC the “Commonwealth of Douglass,” and now the proposals to defund the police.

    The political left wants to remove any and all obstacles to their complete and permanent rulership of this country. Unfortunately, this time out, they are not blessed with a glib, hip, and cool candidate at the top of the ticket. Quite the opposite, actually, and some of them remember, though they don’t talk about it now, how they criticized Reagan for mentally slipping while in office, and they worry about that being dredged up now if Biden slips in full view of the public. Their solution is to lock him in his basement, keep him out of public view, and make him a blank slate like Obama was in 2008, upon which everyone can protect their hopes and dreams. That’s dead in the water if he debates Trump, though. This comes as no surprise.

    HOWEVER, the debates are not without risk for Trump. His first impulse, when Biden is a little slow to answer, will be to say something along the lines of “What’s the matter, Joe? Cat got your tongue?” His impulse if Biden stumbles will to sneer something like “Oh, this guy’s sharp as a bowling ball.” He does that, and he’s dead in the water, and I’d hate to see Biden become a “pity president.”

    • So do I. Trump is Trump, unfortunately. It would be better for him if he were to show Biden pity on stage, look concerned and later express outrage that Biden’s wife, supporters and handlers would be so cruel as to put him out there in public view like that.

      • I’d say Trump’s pretty darned unpredictable and actually very savvy. Who knows what he’ll decide to do. He does have very good instincts. He almost single-handedly outwitted all the professional pols and consultants to win the biggest prize on his first attempt. I’d say, “Underrate him at your peril.”

  4. Remember though, that the important thing about a debate (or an interview) is that it is live, unscripted, and (within reason) unrehearsed. This gives it the essential quality of showing you what the individual is capable of doing on the spot, rather than when given unlimited time and access to the assistance of others. It’s more REAL, and much harder to be packaged and produced.

    That’s what makes it NEWS. How weird is it that the News Media is against it now?

    –Dwayne

    • In that respect, a debate is BETTER than a job interview, or at least those by the numbers interviews that are easily prepared for.

  5. Jack said:

    If a debate is “like a job interview,” and it is, then the writer rebutted her own position.

    Indeed, that would seem to make sense.

    I do understand why the Left wants there to be either no debate, or debates where Trump makes some kind of concessions for the opportunity. They think they are going to win, and in the ultimate irony, want to play as conservatively as possible.

    Also, by couching the election in existential terms, as the often do about the prospect of another Trump term, it makes it easy to argue that anything that jeopardizes Biden’s chances is to be avoided at all costs. Even if the Left’s opinion of Biden’s ability was extremely high, you can understand their desire not to allow Trump the chance to turn that around with a once-in-a-lifetime stellar debate performance.

    We see this kind of tactic a lot in sports, where teams attempt to run out the clock when they have a tenuous lead. That’s where the Democrats and the Left believe Biden is, and given the polling, you’d have to think they have a point. Personally, though, I think it would have the effect of surrendering the initiative and placing Biden firmly in a defensive crouch. This is a bad look for a leader who may be called upon to defend the nation, even as it is not such a negative for a purely domestic administrator.

    But Trump will remind all and sundry that the President is the “Commander in Chief,” and Biden hiding in his basement is likely to cost him dearly. In my view, Biden has no choice but to debate Trump on standard terms if he wants to win. He certainly wouldn’t be wise to expand the debates unless he is sure it helps him, but in my view, he cannot duck them and win.

    So all this “Biden shouldn’t debate Trump” talk is just silly posturing and navel-gazing. There is bound to be at least one person on Biden’s team with enough clout and cognitive ability to see the consequences of not doing so, and if not, so much the better for Trump.

    • At the very least, “He’s afraid to debate ME, so how’s he going to deal with foreign leaders?!?” will become a central campaign theme for President Trump.

      Given Trump’s penchant for branding-via-nickname, he’ll start calling the former Vice-President “Spineless Joe” (or something similar), which proved very effective for him in the 2016 campaign.

      –Dwayne

      • Joe always has the silly macho thing going, challenging opponents to meet him behind the barn. He would never refuse to debate, unless he’s completely lost it, and isn’t calling his own shots at all/

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