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Zaltsberg's ethical standards are unacceptable

Back in May of 2002, Dr. Robert Walker wrote a letter to the editor opposing abortion. When it was published, it was heavily edited by the Herald-Times. There was simply no excuse for this intentional distortion of a letter submitted by a reader to not only make him say things he never wrote, but to change the subject of the letter entirely. I have reproduced both letters at Multi-Level Political Debate.

Now, the Herald-Times has done it again, "editing" a satirical letter by Lynn Gliessman regarding sex education in schools. The letter, as originally written by Gliessman, read as follows:

  • There are educated and enlightened adults in our society who feel an urgent need to seek the opportunity to approach children about sex.

After Herald-Times editor Bob Zaltsberg "edited" the letter, it read as follows:

  • There are educated and enlightened adults in our society who seek the opportunity to talk with children about sex.

Gliessman's letter, as originally written, makes it clear to the reader that Gliessman was being sarcastic by slapping readers across the face with the last sentence. The "edited" letter makes that much less obvious, and even some people who have known Gliessman for years were scratching their heads at that letter.

Yesterday, Zaltsberg wrote a pathetic editorial attempting to justify his distortion of Gliessman's letter by saying he edited the letter for clarity, and then goes on to boldly state that "I will continue to edit letters for clarity." The problem with Zaltsberg's justification of his actions is that there was no real lack of "clarity" in the original letter; the "edited" letter was much less clear than the original.

I run a debate forum. I would never even consider editing another's post for "clarity". The only time I edit posts is to remove things that are in violation of forum rules, such as obscenities. If something is unclear, the writer can explain it in a follow-up post. While letters to the editor do not allow for the type of near-instant communication that a message board can, there is an opportunity for dialogue through the letters section. A letter-writer can always write another letter in a month clarifying his original letter.

What Zaltsberg should have done is call Gliessman and ask if his changes were acceptable. No letter should be edited without permission from the author, unless it is edited to remove obscenity or potentially libelous charges. With such "editing", you run the risk of changing the meaning of the letter. If Zaltsberg believes a letter is unacceptable as written and the writer will not allow changes, then he is free to not print the letter. That would be much better than changing someone's letter.

Zaltsberg's decision and his arrogant justification of that decision should bring a stern reprimand from the H-T's editor-in-chief, Scott Schurz.

Some may argue that I am being too harsh with Zaltsberg. I would respond that you have to look at the long and sordid history of severe lapses n journalistic ethics at the Herald-Times to get the full story of what is really happening:

Clearly, some changes need to be made at 1900 South Walnut. If Zaltsberg refuses to clean up his act, the first change should be the person sitting in the editor's chair.