We generally don’t run letters from non-readers, from out-of-state, or from professional advocates. But if any of the above is outweighed by good reasons to run it, any or all can be overcome. This is intentional. I think it’s stupid to have a rule that "we will never" run a letter that has this or that characteristic. You can end up poorly serving readers.
So sometimes the colleague who sifts through letter submissions asks me about one that has two or even three strikes against it. That happened today, with this one:
Do we want to consider this as a letter to the editor?
From: Ken Foye [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Friday, July 20, 2007 3:51 PM
To: StateEditor, Columbia
Subject: Robert Ariail cartoon June 19
Criticizing the Catholic Church in the wake of the recent sex-abuse settlement in Los Angeles is fair game. But associating the sacrament of reconciliation with this sordid scandal, as Robert Ariail did in his July 19 cartoon, is out of bounds.
This sacrament is a key element of our faith, administered by a group of fine men whose rate of sexual abuse of minors is no higher than that of the general population. There are legitimate ways to object to the Church’s handling of sexual misconduct by priests, but demeaning and trivializing one of our sacraments is not one of them.
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
450 Seventh Ave.
New York, NY 10123
The answer for me was pretty easy:
But I could say more. The person double-checking with me is Catholic, as am I. I haven’t asked why she asked, but I know why I would have: The tendency with me would be to want to ditch such a letter, so I would want somebody to back me up on the fact there it was out of bounds on the basis of several objective criteria. In other words, when there’s a letter you don’t like, and you know you don’t like it on personal grounds, and you know you could bend over backwards and run it if you really wanted to stretch the boundaries, do you make yourself go through those gymnastics, or just do the normal thing and ditch it?
This is what it’s really like in this world. I know all you cynics out there think it’s just the opposite of that, that we twist and manipulate things to advance personal agendas, yadda-yadda. But the truth is that we are so obsessive about avoiding even the appearance of doing that that we often hesitate to make the simplest, most open-and-shut decisions. And of course, no one can obsess like a Catholic.
It helps to pretend to be someone who doesn’t have a conflict or the appearance of a conflict, and act accordingly. And move on, because you have lots of tougher decisions to make today… In this case, it’s fairly easy for me to pretend I’m a Protestant editor, because once upon a time I was a Protestant editor. And that Protestant editor says, "Aw, come on. Talk about your oversensitive mackerel-snappers. If this were one of our readers, that’s one thing. But this professional complainer? Are you kidding me?"
But since I’m no longer a Protestant editor (and haven’t been for about 26 years), there’s an emotional response I have to set aside: As a Catholic, this people who go around looking to be offended as Catholics really gripe me. I don’t feel like a member of an aggrieved group, and I think the Catholics who do — especially when they form associations that exist just to gripe about being aggrieved — are a pain. They give me the dry gripes. To start with, I’ve got that sort of general White Guy sense of discomfort with the whole Identity Politics thing to start with; I certainly don’t want anybody being all whiny on behalf of any group I belong to, or am perceived as belonging to.
But never mind that. This letter does not offer reasons to run it that make it worth ditching a perfectly in-bounds letter from an actual reader expressing his actual opinion that he’s not paid to have. And that’s the choice for us. We can’t run them all, so we have guidelines to give a leg up to our actual readers.
So I ditch the one from the guy who says I ran a cartoon that mocks the sacrament (which I don’t think it does). My question is, do I have to go to confession about this? Or does this post count? As a convert, I’m still not clear on a lot of stuff like that.