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Policy won’t change for one problem letter

Editorial

Posted: Friday, March 09, 2007

We have been betrayed.

It’s not easy to write these words, especially when we take so much pride in being the best — and most accurate — information source for the central Kenai Peninsula.

It all started Jan. 18. That’s when a letter came across the editor’s desk. The letter fell within our requirements — it included a name, local phone number and address. But it wasn’t until we read it that it raised our eyebrows.

The letter was from Alice Shannon of Soldotna.

In case you’re not familiar with Ms. Shannon’s letter, it called for “all the atheists in America: Get off of our country.”

She also went on to say, “Atheists have caused the ruin of this great nation by taking prayer out of our schools and being able to practice what can only be called evil. I don’t care if they have never committed a crime, atheists are the reason crime is rampant.”

The Clarion has received many angry letters over the years, but this one truly got our attention. Should we print it? Is it libelous? Is it relevant to the public’s interest? Does it cross the line of what we think Clarion readers want to see?

The decision was not taken lightly by any means. But one was made out of optimism. What we wanted to see was what our readers thought about this letter and how they would respond to it.

We never questioned Ms. Shannon’s sincerity. We felt she had laid it all out there for everyone to see. So the letter was printed.

In two days, we receive more than 30 letters. Some were angry with her. Some were angry with us. They said we should be ashamed of ourselves for printing it, and that we would never have done that if it were about blacks or Jews. They’re right, we wouldn’t have. However, to be an atheist, you make a conscious choice.

As the letters poured in from not only the central peninsula, but across the country — we even got one from Helsinki, Finland — we were amazed at the compassion our readers were showing for Ms. Shannon. They weren’t condemning her for her beliefs, they were trying to enlighten her about humanity. They were trying to teach her about kindness, diversity and tolerance. They talked to her about America and its foundation of trust and love, and the principles on which this country is based.

That was the optimism we were hoping for.

Weeks later we received the following letter from Ms. Shannon:

“While I’ve been thoroughly entertained by the overwhelming number of passionate responses to my January 29th letter, it should probably be noted that, as at least one writer speculated, it was a complete joke. I think it has run its course and at this time space in the Letters to the Editor section should be reserved for more important issues.”

Now we were angry. Numerous attempts to contact Ms. Shannon proved the letter was a hoax, and we stopped printing any letters referring to hers. Shortly afterward, we received a letter from a person telling us the same letter was found in a blog from a woman from South Carolina, and he sent us the Web address.

We wanted our readers to know the story behind the letter.

We don’t regret what happened with “Ms. Shannon’s” letter. In fact, we’re impressed with the response from our community.

The Clarion feels strongly about giving our readers the opportunity to voice their opinions, and that won’t change.

We’ve established guidelines to make the rules the same for everyone, and we don’t intend to change them because of one letter — however, we may be making a few more phone calls.



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