PRESS FREEDOM AND THE DAILY PROGRESS

In September 2013, the Charlottesville (VA) Daily Progress published a letter to the editor about the President’s Syria policy, titled “Obama is in over his head.” My own opinion is directly contrary to this theme, and so I promptly submitted the following letter:

“Responding to “Obama is in over his head” (September 17) concerning Syria policy:

“Let’s judge President Obama’s Syria policy by its fruits, not by biased opinions. In simplest terms, several important things have happened, or have been deliberately avoided:

“Avoiding action before the August 21 event in which about 1,400 civilians were killed by chemical weapons, the President avoided a precedent of intervening in a foreign civil war solely for humanitarian or political reasons.

“Action following the August 21 incident carries a more selective justification: national and world security threatened by existence of a chemical weapon stockpile in the Middle East, where governments are unstable and vulnerable to terrorist activity.

“Mr. Obama’s decision that this threat justified military action gave Russia, Syria’s ally, strong motivation to seek peaceful resolution of the problem. Collaborating with the U.S., Russia appears to be taking major responsibility, easing the burden on us. Before the President’s decision, Russia had been complacent as the Syrian war went on for years, with casualties mounting to an estimated 100,000. His decision served an important purpose regardless of whether he personally wished for military action.

“The President’s decision to request Congressional approval gained time – for the United Nations to verify that chemical weapons were used, and for the Russian initiative to progress to where it could be adopted or rejected. Further out, his decision gave a precedent for returning to the Constitutional requirement that Congress authorize acts of war – a measure more likely to build national unity. He avoided using the controversial War Powers Act that enabled presidents to wage war without Congressional declaration.

“Those who charge Mr. Obama with incompetence would have us believe that he did not anticipate the firestorm by both parties in Congress, when asked to actually vote on the subject. It is easier to believe that his purpose matched his achievement, gaining time and observing Constitutional principles.

“At each step, Obama’s stance brought benefits. It’s more believable that he masterminded this relatively benign sequence of events, than that he drifted as a floating cork from one goal to another and missed them all.”

*     *     *

Imagine my disappointment when my letter appeared on September 22 at less than half the size of its former self! Wasting no time, I emailed Anita Shelburne, the Progress staff member handling Letters to the Editor, and pointed out the problem:

“I note that the letter has been published in today’s Sunday Progress. However, you have published only 120 of the 349 words that I submitted. The last four paragraphs have been deleted. These are essential support for the points that I was trying to make.

“The shortened letter hardly stands alone; it doesn’t present the necessary logic to support the opening statement, and exposes the writer to criticism for unfounded claims. The deletion does not qualify as “editing.” Instead, it is the removal of essential parts of the message….”

She responded promptly, in two parts:

“Thanks for the alert.

“It appears that when your letter was “copied” into the computer program we use to produce the newspaper, the latter portion did not transfer.

“I’ve been instructed by my superiors not to reprint letters for the purposes of making a correction. I will have to find out what other arrangements they have in mind, and will get back to you.”

“We’re updating the letter online, with the full text. Thanks again.”

In protest, I wrote back:

“I appreciate your looking into this matter. However, if I read your response correctly — that the update will be made online but not in the printed edition — I feel obliged to protest the policy that led to this…

“…The majority of readers, using the printed version, would not be affected by the remedy you are following.

“I still feel that I have been treated unfairly by having my letter posted in such an abbreviated form that it fails to make its case, or even to state the full message that I was trying to convey.”

That was the end of the correspondence. As far as I know, the following version of the letter, severely shortened, remains as its only printed record. If I somehow missed a later correction of the error, I would welcome a comment by the Daily Progress setting the record straight.

 Syria UDlyProgPARTIALbCy copy

Syria UUDlyProgPARTIAL copy

I place a high value on freedom of the press. I realize that it means many things to many people. I was surprised to find through this experience that there is one additional meaning for some people: That the press is not accountable, either to its contributors or its readers, for errors. There seems to be no obligation to correct or acknowledge them.

 Note: Another event involving “liberties” taken by the Daily Progress is described in a Note in the posting titled “Columnist fails to provide whole picture about Titanic Survival” (posted 5/6/2014).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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