Campaign editor gets ready to be body slammed

WestWordsWEBBeing an editor in these parts during election season is a little like being the referee in a professional wrestling match. One never knows when one of the participants is going to body slam you instead of their opponent.

We are often accused of editing the letters from only one side. It gets a little old after a while, because nobody besides those who work at the paper know how much we edit both sides to keep them in conformance with our letter to the editor guidelines.

We try as hard as we can to be fair to all, but, human ingenuity being what it is, inevitably somebody throws a new curve into the equation.

It never ceases to amaze me why some letters get sent. All of the negativity that comes spilling out can’t be persuading anybody to change their vote.

The best letters are those that are truly thoughtful and measured in their tone. Instead of suggesting that only an idiot would disagree with the writer or that a candidate hates children, the United States and the state of Minnesota, a few writers actually take the time to counter the arguments made by the other side and suggest that maybe things would work better if we moved in a different direction.

Regardless, we are ready for all submissions, and hope that people understand that space is limited, and we do have a few guidelines.

First, we have a 300-word limit on letters to the editor, and permit only one letter per writer every five weeks. All letters need to include a name, street address and city as well as a daytime phone number. We publish only the name and city of residence. We verify each letter. Leave any of that information out, and your letter won’t run.

Although just about anything can be said about candidates for public office, we also consider whether letters are libelous. That means that writers need to take care with what they say about individual supporters of candidates.

We are frequently challenged by readers who say that we publish falsehoods about candidates. If we know that a factual error is in a letter, we will call the writer on it or discard the letter. However, we don’t always know if something is blatantly false, and usually find the passage to be only a gross distortion. Then, we usually opt to run the distortion in the name of robust discussion.

As I said above, I don’t think such letters are persuasive, but I understand how they irritate candidates.

Because of space limitations, and also to spare our readers, we limit the number of letters in any issue to three which support a given candidate or attack his or her opponent.

No letters attacking a candidate will run in the last issue before that candidate’s name appears on the ballot. If the candidate has a primary election contest come Aug. 12, then that means no criticism of him or her in the Aug. 10 issue.

We also attempt to protect our letter writers from unnecessary harassment. That means that, while one can disagree with a previously published letter, the criticism needs to deal with the arguments put forth, and not with the letter writer. Don’t mention other letter writers who are non-candidates by name.

Again, most people rarely find insults and accusations persuasive, and I urge all letter writers and online contributors to to keep that in mind.