Progress won't clarify 'undigested' letter

On June 8, newspaper reader Chuck Mathewes opened his Daily Progress to a liberals-bashing letter attributed to Debra Weidman of northern Albemarle County. Chock full of cheeky one-liners, the letter announced, "I think owning a gun doesn't make you a killer, it makes you a smart American," and "I believe that if you're selling me a Big Mac, do it in English."

Something about it just didn't sit right with Mathewes. "It sounded," he says, "very stale and prefabricated."

He Googled the letter and found it all over the Internet. It turned out to have been widely circulated and often forwarded by email. He notified the Progress by email that such a reprint was "probably against their letters policy" and sought some sort of retraction or acknowledgement of what he calls "undigested opinion."

"I let them know that they should point out on the page and write on the website," he says, "that this was not the person's own writing."

Instead, the Progress not only kept the letter on the paper's website, it even published an "amen" letter a week later. Editorial page editor Anita Shelburne referred the Hook's questions to editor McGregor McCance and publisher Lawrence McConnell. The former didn't return calls; the latter wouldn't comment.

Debra Weidman readily admits that she did not write the letter and was just "passing it along." She says she often enjoys email "forwards" and wanted to share this one. "There are quite a few floating around out there," she says, "that are absolutely wonderful."

She says a Progress editor told her to paraphrase the letter and shorten it to the paper's word limit, and then send it under her own name. The paper also made her change the title from "I'm a Bad American" to "Liberals Afraid of US Values."

"It sounded like something you needed a patriotic soundtrack behind for selling used cars," Mathewes says. "I was deeply disappointed."

So was Media Ethicist Bob Steele.

"If the newspaper says of material that isn't yours, 'Just put your name on it,' that is highly problematic ethically and practically," says Steele. "If we claim someone else's work as our own, that is dishonesty and plagiarism."

According to Steele, if a paper decides to run an anonymous email forward, editors should clearly attribute it, saying "So-and-so sent this to us. It was an anonymous post she saw on the Internet. These are not her words, but she believes it is important for others to read."

Weidman says she has previously contributed both original and "passed-along" letters to the Progress. (She says the paper once refused to run one on immigration. "I firmly believe that immigrants are coming to this country because there is something about this country they like," she says, "not to take over the country.")

Mathewes also sent the Progress an American values letter of his own entitled "Democrats Promoting US Values" that appeared on June 13. This letter suggested counterexamples to the one Weidman sent, such as "I don't think owning a gun makes you a killer, but I don't like the fact that killers and troubled youngsters can buy submachine guns or assault rifles through the mail without background checks."


does anyone check snopes? not a surprise though - the dp is a rag.

I mean, c'mon. The only thing sillier than the DP editorial page is the Hook covering the DP editorial page.

Thanks for the story.

Well, if anybody had any doubts about the complete lack of journalistic ethics at the Daily Progress I guess this settles that for good. And if anybody still thinks they don't really present an editorial policy COMPLETELY at odds with the community they serve, that illusion has been dashed as well.

What an utter disgrace. Seriously. But of course, like Faux News the DP has its fans - some people will buy and believe anything, and will do as Lucy (Peanuts) always said: "If you can't be right, be wrong at the top of your lungs."

Well, this is certainly illuminating. The DP wouldn't print a Letter to the Editor I wrote attempting to correct an inaccuracy in an article they had published, but they will publish right-wing junk mail. Lovely.

When has the Hook been a beacon of journalism? What a joke. Nastiest paper in town calling an established icon in the community a tabloid?
Boy, The Hook is really grasping for straws. One costs 50 cents a day to read and the other is a free throw away rag!

I agree. The Hook is far from objective journalism. It more often sounds like a rant from a small group of people.

"Established icon?" I guess that depends on your perspective. If you like wire stories cut off mid-sentence in order to fit a space, reporting that is more often than not pedestrian and occasionally worse, and an overall political stance largely at odds with the population it serves, then an icon it is.

The Progress doesn't publish its letters policy on their site (no shocker there), but a responsible letters policy would seem to be similar to these:

"All letters are edited for grammar, taste, fairness and [Washington] Post style, and the editorial copy desk vigorously checks facts."

"Letters to the editor should only be sent to The [New York] Times, and not to other publications. We do not publish open letters or third-party letters."

"Open letters, letters sent to more than one address, or poetry will not be published...We reserve the right to edit for accuracy, brevity, clarity, legality, and taste. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]"

So reputable newspapers check facts, won't accept open letters, and edit for accuracy and taste. Does this mean the Progress isn't a reputable newspaper? Not in and of itself, but it's just one more thing among a s***load of other things.

One good thing - they've cut staff so much that they don't have as many sockpuppets as they once did.

The Progress has to be one of the most inept examples of journalism. One must wonder if the editor actually reads what is published. that should take about a whole minute or two. What they do publish is often inaccurate or taken out of context. Hmmm...reminds me of the Bush administration.

The DP's editorial page editor is a weak link among the paper's editors. This is really boneheaded.

DP bashing. Again. L-A-M-E.

The DP's editorial page is pretty lame itself, though. News content decent.

Now, now. No bashing required. I remember reading the letter and noticed it had a "stagey" tone. I also wondered why it was published as it seemed to be more of an attention-getter than a letter.

To learn that the Progress would knowingly publish an Internet screed as an original letter *is* news. And disappointing news at that. Thanks, Hook, for being a valued Eye on Media for this reader!