Monday, January 7, 2013

Fact-Challenged Letters Are Not Helpful

My grumble for the day: Why do my local newspapers run letters to the editor that are premised on faulty assumptions or completely obvious misunderstandings of the facts? They both do it on an almost weekly basis, it seems, but here's the most recent example.

On January 2, Dinah Meron of Woodbury wrote about the movement to approve a National Popular Vote law in Minnesota.

As readers of this blog know, the point of that law would be to assign Minnesota's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, but only after enough states have passed it to assure the winner of the popular vote would get 270 electoral votes. Until then, Minnesota's electoral votes would continue to be awarded in the current manner.

But Dinah wrote this:

It has long been apparent that we need to eliminate the Electoral College and rely on popular votes alone to elect our president ("Popular vote for president? Lawmakers hope so," Dec. 18). However, the so-called solution proposed by Rep. Pat Garofalo, to award Minnesota's electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states, only serves to dilute the impact of the votes of the people of Minnesota. The Electoral College cannot be repaired or eliminated by individual states. It has to be done with a Constitutional amendment.

Dinah Meron, Woodbury
No, Dinah. That is incorrect. Today, the Pioneer Press made it right by publishing another letter, which pointed out her error:
A Jan. 2 letter writer criticizes the proposal to award Minnesota's electoral votes in presidential elections to the winner of the national popular vote, saying it "serves to dilute the impact of the votes of the people of Minnesota." This reflects a misunderstanding of the proposal..., which includes the provision that it goes into effect only when the states that adopt it have an electoral-vote majority.... That goal is much more easily achievable in this way than by the letter writer's suggested method of constitutional amendment. Eight states and District of Columbia have already adopted the compact.

Carl Voss, St. Paul
But the paper could have saved Carl the trouble by not printing Dinah's inaccurate letter in the first place.

There's no reason to publish inaccurate letters -- this isn't a matter of opinion, after all, it's a fact. And they have editors of these pages for a reason: Given limited space, only the letters that contribute something useful to public discourse should be selected. Accuracy is a minimum requirement for useful discourse.


Michael Leddy said...

Amen. Our paper chooses to print such letters (far more toxic ones than the one you’ve quoted), and that’s one of the reasons that we stopped subscribing.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Crikey, you expect the editors to fact-check? On the other hand, I'd be worried that the St. Paul paper would only print letters that agreed with its conservative outlook. Because, you know, they would decide that all the liberal letters were factually flawed.