Occasionally I'll get a letter from a reader that needs to be answered in a column. Last week, I received this letter from Carolyn Johnson of Little Rock:
According to the guidelines for having a letter published in the Democrat-Gazette, "Statements of fact are checked for accuracy." With that in mind, I wish to call to your attention a letter that was published on Saturday, May 21.
While the vast majority of the letter consisted of opinions and voting recommendations made by the writer, one statement in the letter caused me concern. It was made as a response to Sarah Huckabee Sanders' assertion that we may never know the extent of fraud committed in the 2020 election. The statement reads as follows: "Hey Sarah, it has been determined," and was followed by a link to the website for the film "2000 Mules."
This so-called documentary by Dinesh D'Souza purports to prove that the 2020 election was stolen as a result of widespread voting fraud. However, according to experts, the methods used by D'Souza and his associate, Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote, were terribly flawed, totally unreliable, and proved nothing of the sort. I do believe the film did prove something: that disinformation and confirmation bias are alive and well in this country.
Did this "statement of fact" slip by your fact checkers, or are alternative facts now acceptable for publication? Either way, shame on you.
Thank you, Carolyn, for your question, and I'm more than happy to provide the reasoning for allowing that particular statement.
As you know, I'm a big proponent of fact-checking, and I'm a particular fan of sites like FactCheck.org and PolitiFact for the simple reason that those sites link to their sources so that readers can judge for themselves how accurate the analysis is.
In my Facebook posts asking for letters, I expand a little on the general rules for letters:
Whatever you send, try to keep it under 300 words (the average number of words that fit in about 7 inches of space). You should also ensure that your letter is publishable in a family newspaper (no obscenity or name-calling of fellow readers, nothing explicit or graphic you wouldn't want to see over your eggs and bacon, no personal or business disputes or anything that might require legal intervention, no calling for the death of anyone ..., etc.).
If you include statements of fact, please list your sources at the end so I can track them down, or attribute them to the source in the text of the letter (helpful hint: it's a great way to get around the fact-checking rule; as long as I can verify that that person said it, no matter how factually wrong it may be, it's printable IF attributed to them).
The letter-writer actually did, without prompting, what I've asked so many who have complained that their letters weren't being printed because of fact-checking (which they believe is liberal-biased): Attribute the statement, in this case with a link. Readers can then check out the site themselves.
I won't make a value judgement on the veracity of Dinesh D'Souza's work, though I'd remind people to investigate, as Carolyn did, to see how trustworthy the source--any source--is before investing yourself too heavily. If a source relies too much on paper-thin connections and suppositions to make their case rather than actual evidence, it's a waste of your valuable time.
I will say that in the case of the 2020 election, as I have documented in previous columns, there has been no proof thus far of the kind of widespread voter fraud that would be needed to turn a presidential election, according to the vast majority of election officials, many of them Republican, as well as numerous audits. There are always isolated cases, but they're usually on the local/state level, and don't involve the vast numbers of people and moving parts needed for the kind of fraud being touted by election truthers.
It's a thin line, sometimes, deciding what is acceptable for the Voices page, and not everyone wants to follow the rules, so I have to give a little leeway. This was one of those times. (Note to those who list their sources: List actual sources, not general commands to Google something. Google is a search engine, not a source.)
I'm just glad someone actually took my suggestion. Woo hoo!
Sometimes it's the little things that make me happy.
I also occasionally get nice cards and other things from readers, and recently I received something from Beverly Florida of Little Rock that put a smile on my face.
It was a lovely bit of prose she wrote called "Summer Symphony" on a laminated card with a magnet: "The rise and fall of a June Bug chorus ushers in summer twilight. What begins with a low solo then builds to a frenzied crescendo. A skinny grasshopper waves his stick baton and adds a chirp here and a chirp there. Then in the blink of a cricket eye, Mr. Conductor cuts a wide swath in the air, and everything is quiet. It all resumes shortly, second verse same as the first!"
Thanks, Beverly! It's now in a spot where I'll see it every day.
Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.