Earlier this week, I received a telephone call from someone in the community I’ve met enough times to know he was not kidding me.
“I heard that you are not taking letters or columns about the upcoming bond issue in May,” he said. “I certainly hope not.”
Pausing I listened as he was genuinely concerned about his local newspaper not allowing opposing sides to share their thoughts about a community concern. The loss of an opportunity to make a case for or against an important community issue truly troubled him.
“I am sorry, but that just does not ring true,” I said. “Why would we not want to publish different points of view?”
I offered to ask around the office and see if there could be anything that could be misconstrued as The Daily News not accepting opinions about the $62 million bond election Galveston has called for May 6. I could not think of any reason.
While there are time-honored rules about the timing of columns by candidates, so as not to allow for a stink bomb to be tossed at the last minute without time for others to respond, this was certainly not the case.
Minutes later, sharing what I’d heard with Michael A. Smith, editor of The Daily News, we both shook our heads.
“That is fake news,” he said.
Funny how a phrase we’d never heard of 12 months ago suddenly finds itself in a starring role. Fake news, as we properly defined it, is not about whether you agree or not — it is about whether the information is categorically false. And there is big difference between a difference of opinion and an outright falsehood.
A rumor claiming The Daily News was refusing to publish letters or columns on an matter of compelling public interest is “fake news.” Widespread distribution of differences of opinions from the public, like the caller said, is an important part of the process of making the best decision for the community. To not have a neutral place such as letters to the editor or guest columns would be to undermine the spirit of a free and open society.
As for the space reserved on the left-hand side of the opinion page? That space there is where readers will find the opinions of The Daily News’ editorial board. Can they be controversial? Yes. Can they be wrong? Yes. Can we change our minds over time? Of course — and we do.
We, after all, are humans making what we believe are the right recommendations at the time based on our understanding of the information available. And we also know once we take a position, we are rightly held to the scrutiny of our readers and community. And that is why you’ll see letters populating our pages afterward. That is how this is supposed to work. Open and free-flowing discussion of facts.
But when it comes to The Daily News not publishing letters or guest columns simply because we might disagree is purely false. Well, go ahead, call it what it is: fake news.