September 23, 2021

Grant County Herald

Community news from the prairie to the lakes

Letters to the editor should not contain false information

BY REED ANFINSON

Co-Publisher Grant County Herald

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” 

Mark Twain

At the Grant County Herald, we believe that a robust conversation on many topics of interest to our readers is essential to understanding one another. It also helps us become aware of the diversity of the people we live among as we strive to get to know and respect each other. 

In our internet world, where there is so much anger, sarcasm, and disrespect for others on social media, our editorial page should be a forum for a civil and honest conversation. Letters to the editor on our opinion page provide our readers that safe space for that conversation and debate.

However, a few rules apply to those letters, and this past week we failed to enforce one of them – we don’t print provably false information. When provably false statements are included in letters, we will ask the letter writer to remove them.

This past week we printed a letter by Robert Peterson of Barrett in which there were several patently false assertions:

* “COVID-19 injections have caused more reported deaths than all vaccines combined.” This statement is absolutely, provably, false.

* Vaccines have caused “over 80 percent of pregnant women to miscarriage.” Again, an absolutely provably false statement. Miscarriages among vaccinated and unvaccinated women remain at the same percentage – about 12.5 percent.

* “Many reported heat and blood clotting problems…” have been caused by the COVID-19 vaccine. While there have been some clotting and heart issues, they are extraordinarily rare – fewer than 10 in one million. If you get COVID-19, your risk of heart problems increases to over 110 in one million.

Only two to five people out of one million who receive the vaccine have an allergic reaction to it and most recover quickly, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports. Deaths of people who have received the vaccine were put at 0.0018 percent, but in many of these cases it was not provable that the vaccine was the cause. 

When hundreds of millions of people receive a vaccine, there are those in the group who would have had heart attacks or strokes, whether they received it or not. According to the American Heart Association, someone dies of a heart attack every 36 seconds in the U.S.

According to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, a person who gets COVID-19 is 8 to 10 times as likely to get blood clots in the brain as someone who is vaccinated.

More than 642,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. New variants put even younger people at risk of severe illness and death. Vaccines are a proven, safe way to prevent the disease and prevent new strains from developing.

By printing false information that would lead some to not get vaccinated, we take on responsibility for the consequences.

We ask that writers know the facts of what they are writing about. Rumors and half-truths are not the stuff on which letters should be based.

We won’t hold out letters simply because we disagree with an opinion. If we were to hold all letters that offended our readers, we would be a weakened and poor reflection of the depth and breadth of people living in our community.

While we won’t print wording that is provably false, we will continue to print letters that offend sensibilities, are hurtful, ridicule, and express intolerance.

Why do newspapers print letters that many would see as offensive? To help us answer that question, we turned to our colleagues in the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.

“First is the ‘safety valve’ role of letters to the editor – better a hateful bigot express himself with a vile opinion than with harassment or violence,” Bill Reader, an associate professor at E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, said.

Second is the importance of ensuring the community remains aware of the broad range of thought among its people, including bigotry and hatred. The letters we print allow the community to look at itself and ask, “Is this a reflection of who we are?” Those who disagree with what they read have the right to try to change that perception with their own letters.

Finally, it is said by many that the best response to hate speech is more speech not censorship, initiated by the government or by the editor of a newspaper. The long-term benefits of robust free speech to democracy’s health far outweigh the short-term pain, discomfort, or outrage caused by offensive words.

Only being exposed to those ideas with which we agree is building walls to challenging thoughts that might give us new insights and new perspectives that help our frame of reference on the world expand. Those new ideas might make us more tolerant of others; more willing to listen and compromise.

However, we reserve the right to edit out factually false statements. A couple other rules are:

– We don’t print letters that attack individuals. You can challenge a belief or a way of life that you don’t agree with, but you can’t attack the individual whose behavior you disagree with or find offensive. There are a few exceptions to this rule, including elected officials, celebrities, and other people deemed public figures.

– Language that threatens harm or incites action to harm an individual or group is hate speech. We don’t print it.

Letters to the editor offer a safe space for what is generally a civil conversation. And, perhaps, by being civil in what we have to say to one another, we open the door to teaching or learning, or both