Letters, we get letters

New Boston Globe ombusmen Richard Chacon raised a good issue in his Aug. 7 column when he said the paper should be more rigorous in vetting the statements and sources used in opinion columns, applying the same standards it would employ on the news pages. Below are excerpts from that column:

"Shouldn't opinion columns be held to the same strict standards for sourcing and attribution that are applied to stories in the news sections? Absolutely...
Like most newspapers, the Globe op-ed page offers a mixture of opinion pieces. Some essays are written by staff columnists, journalists who are supposed to be well versed in proper sourcing and attribution. Other pieces are written by nonstaff contributors....or free-lance writers who are knowledgeable in a particular field.
All op-ed columns go through rigorous editing for accuracy, style, and length before going into print, according to Marjorie Pritchard, the Globe's op-ed co-editor, who also cites the page's low error rate. There is also a trust that the writer wouldn't want to undercut a piece by making errors, she added.
It's not just about the editing. Op-ed writers whether staff or free-lance should refrain from broad statements presented as facts unless they can back them up with solid evidence."
Now, a poster to the Media Log comments section raises an equally salient question about the letters page. Specifically, this individual was concerned and about an Aug. 16 letter to the editor in the Globe written by State Senator Marian Walsh. Walsh

Walsh was responding to a previous op-ed column and letter to the editor opposing a bill she has sponsored to require churches to file financial statements with the attorney general's office. Walsh took issue with the critics' assertions that churches are tax exempt because they are religious institutions, not charities. Her letter countered that "religious organizations are considered a public charity for federal tax law purposes under the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code."

The poster was upset that the reader "is left to decide who is right...A better process would be for the media outlet to review the facts itself, then run a statement directly following the published letter."

Good point. On matters of opinion or even perspective, letter writers and op-ed contributors should be able to have an unmediated say. But when it boils down to a dispute over facts, why not have the paper itself, when humanly possible, sort out reality from fiction -- or even explain the nuances if the truth lies somewhere in between?
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