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Why we play it safe with election letters

October 28, 2014 | 11:11 AM
We don’t print letters to the editor regarding elections — or referendums — the week prior to an election.

Our reasoning: We want to avoid any chance of a grievous error being made that might affect how you vote.

As a result, I’ve rejected several letters voicing opinions about the Lake Geneva parking structure and the Williams Bay School referendum that showed up this week. All letters were rejected regardless of the side they took.

We expect the facts to be straight in our news stories. At least we try our best. But our opinion section is different, more prone to errors.

Normally we allow people to have their say in letters to the editor and let the reader decide who’s right and who’s wrong.

A grievous error in one person’s mind may be the truth in another’s. And “facts” too often rest uncomfortably between a lie and simply a vigorous opinion.

When mistakes are made most of the time they’re not on the eve of an election.

Then the stakes are higher and there’s no chance for a correction.

And, in deadline journalism, mistakes do happen.

Most of us know about “Dewey defeats Truman.” That’s the headline the Chicago Tribune printed after the 1948 election. And it was wrong.

I’ve heard of the headline about a crime on top of a story about a politician.

Or even a politician’s picture being swapped with the dog of the week.

How can these things happen? Newspapers are run by humans. And humans make mistakes. It’s happened to the best newspapers in the world. It can happen to us.

I also tried to live by the rule, too. I ran my opinion in last week’s paper.

So in essence we have a buffer week.

I can correct a statement I made last week about a road running behind the Lake Geneva Utility building connecting Geneva Street hadn’t been discussed in a dozen years. A former member of the city council corrected me. It was last discussed six years ago.

And we’re running the entire list of TIF ideas on our website, so people know what’s on it.

Hopefully, by now, all sides of the issue were explored on both the Williams Bay School and the parking structure referendum over the last two years.

We tried to alert readers of our letters policy. We ran it several times. We’re sorry some people missed it.

We ran two ads on the parking structure. That may look hypocritical; it may be. And the irony is both advertisers would have lived with the policy. Next year, I’ll look at expanding the ban to include late ads, too.

I don’t think either one of them had a “grievous” error.

On another election note:

Signs against the parking structure have shown up about town. Only to be removed just as quickly. Letters have been distributed door-to-door.

The issue is not what was said. But we wondered if it was against election laws as no attribution was printed on the material.

So we asked the Government Accountability Office. If an individual or group spends more than $2,500 on their campaign, they must put “paid for by” he or she.

The authors probably didn’t spend that much, so don’t have to register as a political action committee.

Or identify who they are.

It’s just never made any sense to me, why people want to hide what they believe in.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.


Tags: Staff Editorial

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