To: Seattle P-I Editorial Page, Seattle P-I Ombudsman
In a letter the other day, "More evidence that Bush & Co. used false pretenses," the letter writer wrote:
"With the recent disclosure of the secret British memorandum that substantiates the testimony of terrorism expert Richard Clarke and the writing of ex-Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill, it should be abundantly clear that President Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld conspired to lie to justify the war against Iraq."
This is not true. The memorandum does not substantiate anything. To substantiate is to "support with proof or evidence." Every definition of the word has the sense of using facts, evidence, etc. to back up an assertion. But the memorandum merely makes an undetailed claim, without even attempting to back it up.
I know it is a letter, but the letters you publish should not make blatantly false claims. A better rewriting may have been something along the lines of, "... memorandum that reiterated the claims made by Clarke and O'Neill
From: Seattle P-I Ombudsman
Dear pudge: Thanks for your message. I can appreciate what you are saying.
However, the idea of the letters column is to let readers express their opinions. Something that is proof in one person's mind is not proof in another's.
To turn the tables a bit, a person could believe that Newsweek's reporting of a Koran being flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay was proof that the magazine is trying to make the U.S. or its military look bad. Other people would disagree. And that's the basis for printing both opinions. The idea is to further the discussion.
I see you've written this to editpage, so the editors involved will have read your message. We appreciate your interest and that you took the time to write.
I was not offering an opinion. What I said is factually true: the memo offered no evidence. It didn't even try to. Have you read it? It was a report from someone, but it is just his word, and doesn't even offer any details. It just says "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," but provides no basis for this statement, of any kind.
For all we know, he said that because Richard Clarke told him that, which would be not substantiation of the claim, but merely another retelling of the exact same claim. Or maybe it is just a feeling he had, not intended as a statement of fact. Without knowing the basis of the claim, it cannot be seen as substantiation.
My problem here is precisely that your paper printed something that claimed to be a statement of fact but is actually incorrect, and that you just let it slide by saying it is an opinion. But readers will pick it up and assume that because you printed it, that hey, the memo must have substantiated the claims -- or even MIGHT have done so -- when, in actual fact, it did no such thing.
I am all for letter-writers expressing their opinions, whatever they are. No censor am I. But they should not invent facts that do not exist (which, ironically, is precisely what the letter-writer is accusing Bush of doing), and when they do, it is your responsibility to check them for accuracy.
Also, I am not sure how you are "turning the tables;" it appears you mean to imply I might agree with such a sentiment. I would not, as such action alone cannot prove intent.
Maybe Bush fudged intelligence to fit the policy. Maybe Newsweek has seditious intentions. But the Downing Street Memo does not prove the former, nor the article mentioning the Koran the latter.
pudge: Thanks for the clarification. I'll share it with the editorial page editor.
We appreciate your interest.