The letters-to-the-editor page of any newspaper tends to be filled with kooks of all stripes, but the Los Angeles Times refuses to print letters with demonstrable lies, as one of its editors explained over the weekend:
Regular readers of The Times’ Opinion pages will know that, among the few letters published over the last week that have blamed the Democrats for the government shutdown (a preponderance faulted House Republicans), none made the argument about Congress exempting itself from Obamacare.
Why? Simply put, this objection to the president’s healthcare law is based on a falsehood, and letters that have an untrue basis (for example, ones that say there’s no sign humans have caused climate change) do not get printed.
They won’t print things that aren’t true?! As you would expect, conservative bloggers weren’t taking the news so well:
So letters to the editor “that say there’s no sign humans have caused climate change…do not get printed.”
That’s quite a statement coming from an editorial writer not named Al Gore.
The letters editor, Paul Thornton, responded to that change the other day:
… when deciding which letters should run among hundreds on such weighty matters as climate change, I must rely on the experts — in other words, those scientists with advanced degrees who undertake tedious research and rigorous peer review.
Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change” is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.
That’s… exactly what newspapers ought to be doing when people lie. If they’re letter writers, don’t give them the privilege of being in the paper. (And if they’re public figures, I hope the writers call them out on their lies.)
When you don’t do that, you lose credibility.
But that brings up another point: Does the newspaper do the same thing when it comes to letter writers who promote Creationism? Claim to have witnessed a miracle? Talk about the power of psychics? What about those who advocate this idea that we’re a “Christian nation”? Or that atheists are waging a “war on Christmas”? Or that there are “no atheists in foxholes”? Which “statements of fact” are allowed to slip through? Which ones belong in the same boat as climate change deniers?
We never get an answer to that. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on if you read the LA Times regularly.