On Saturday, June 20, 2009, the San Antonio Express-News in San Antonio, Texas printed the above letter from a reader. Apparently as an adjunct to the letter the above photo of Alaska’s governor was also printed. The photo prompted a letter from me to the editor—my letter and the series of e-mails that followed are the subjects of this posting.
Saturday, June 20, 2009 (my initial letter to the editor)
firstname.lastname@example.org, YOUR TURN, June 20, 2009:
Re: Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, and her photo published in YOUR TURN today:
Please convey my congratulations to the staffer who painstakingly researched your voluminous files and unerringly selected the most unflattering photo available to be printed, and also to the upper echelon person who approved its use.
Sarah Palin’s mouth is grotesquely twisted into what can only be described as a snarl or sneer, and her left eye is squinted closed. The governor is apparently right-handed, and she appears to be taking aim at a target. It’s pure conjecture as to what, or whom, she sees through her sights.
I have zero expectations of this letter being printed. I have in the past submitted letters to the editor—some were printed and some were ignored. My experience has been that when the letter strikes a nerve, it is not published.
A prime example of comments striking a nerve and not being published is my recent submission, a letter in which I noted, and in no small measure criticized, recent changes to your publication.
I appreciate it when a letter is published because all writers enjoy seeing their work in print, but I usually feel much better when it strikes a nerve and is not published—its rejection indicates its effectiveness.
I am reasonably certain that you will not disappoint me this time.
This is the editor’s response to my letter:
From: BRichter@express-news.net (the public editor of the paper)
Mon, Jun 22, 2009 1:34 PM
H.M. – Thanks for your letter. May we publish it? I think I’ll cut all the whining about your letters not getting published when they strike a nerve. We’ll just go with the criticism of the photo in question (which I didn’t really think was so bad). Bob Richter
And this is my answer to his request to publish my letter:
Tuesday, June 23, 2009 11:11 AM
No, do not publish the letter. I’m pleased with your response, but I now have no desire to see any part of the letter in print. Besides, I seriously doubt that the first two paragraphs would be published as written.
The word whining is a term of derision and a poor choice for the Express-News’ Public Editor, or any other staff member, to use in response to a letter from a long-time subscriber. Your use of the word was petty—you could have conveyed your thoughts just as effectively by using comments instead of whining.
I did not expect the letter to be published in its entirety—my interest was only in the first two paragraphs. My so-called whining was meant to increase the odds that those paragraphs would be published—evidently it served its purpose.
Considering your statement that you didn’t really think it (the photo) was so bad, I’m surprised at your offer to publish any part of the letter. The photo was derogatory, extremely disrespectful to a person who has earned respect, and I think you know that.
In closing, please be aware that I will strive mightily to resist any temptation to submit other letters to the editor, regardless of the subject—I will retreat into silence and make every effort to stay there.
This is the last e-mail I received from the Public Editor of the Express-News:
Tue, Jun 23, 2009 2:32 PM
You’re right; I was wrong to use that word. I would use that with a friend, in kind of a joshing way. But I don’t know you, and it was improper. I’m sorry.
Re: The editor’s statement, “I’m sorry.”
Is his “I’m sorry” offered as an apology? If intended to be an apology, it rings hollow—it could mean he’s sorry I wrote the original letter, or he’s sorry he made a petulant reply to a serious subscriber’s letter or, more likely, he’s sorry that he offered to print my letter, albeit only partially, and it could mean that he’s sorry I refused his offer to publish it, and of course, that he’s sorry about all the above.
A bona fide apology should include the word apology, as in “I apologize,” or as in “Please accept my apology.”
The editor seems reluctant to use the word.
What say you?