Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Shver Shver?


Remember this letter, by the extremely ungrateful supported sons-in-law? The one that caused much outrage (with good reason)? Well, apparently, it's a fake... or maybe not. Larry Lennhoff has the letter to the Yated from a regretful father-in-law claiming that he, in anger at his son-in-law, wrote the (fake) letter to make a point. However, a commenter at Baruch Pelta's blog (Orthodox Freelancers) says that there's another letter [update: here it is] claiming the follow-up is fake, since the 3rd letter writer is the one who wrote the first one. (Follow all that?)

Whether the first letter is true or not, the second is true or not, and the third letter exists or not, the second letter writer makes possibly the best point of all in questioning the Yated's publishing of the letter:
I must admit to being disturbed by the number of people who take letters in the Yated - many of them totally anonymous letters, mind you - at face value and allow themselves be carried away and be taken for rides. I have nothing against readers expressing opinions. But that is all it is: an anonymous opinion. Just because a letter is signed, “A Mental Health Professional,” or “A Teacher,” or “A Hurting Mother,” or “A Son-in-Law,” does not guarantee in any way that any such person wrote that letter.

For all any of us know, someone wrote it for the kicks, or to get people upset, or to support a cause, or for any other number of reasons. ...

You don’t know that any such person ever wrote any such letter. These letters in the Yated get quoted, posted, e-mailed, talked about, and they take on a life of their own. It becomes ‘fact’ that such and such a person said such and such a thing about such and such a topic. All this shows is how many people are gullible. It shows little else.
While I don't think it shows people are "gullible" per se (people have no choice but to place their trust somewhere, and they presume that a responsible publication vets their letters), the writer is absolutely correct about trusting such anonymous letters in general. For the same reasons that anonymous blogs and bloggers should have [and do have] a much harder time building trust, as they have little 'on the line', anonymous letter writers have even less of a reason to be trusted - or actually, none.

But the biggest fault lies at the feet of the Yated itself. A publication should never accept an anonymous letter, particularly one which is as clearly inflammatory as the original letter here was; even letters which are published anonymously should still have identities which are known to the editor. There should be no occasion for a second letter to be published claiming that the original was a fake without the publication knowing whether or not this is the case.

A friend recently discussed with me that a publication they are affiliated with was considering a section that would be made up of letters on subjects that are more difficult to discuss in public - from abuse to depression to anything else that a person might wish to write about anonymously. While finding the idea noble in thought, my friend questioned the idea, wondering if I agreed that this was a bad idea and set a horrible precedent in regard to accepting anonymous material in a publication wishing to be taken seriously. I agreed emphatically, noting that this would lead to numerous false letters and lack of responsibility for one's words, as it would allow people to hide behind this veil of anonymity to say whatever they want - true or false, right or wrong. There's a clear difference between an editors or journalists knowing the identity of a letter writer or a person being quoted and publishing their words anonymously, and a letter that is completely anonymous in its origin. The former can, if used properly, bring light to important subjects; the latter is a disservice which cheapens the very ideals it wishes to represent through its lack of credibility.


  1. this is similar to the recent situation with all those viral videos that turned out to be nothing more than advertising.

    It will be a sad day when the average person no longer trusts local media/news outlets, and I think it'll make things harder for everyone.

  2. just wondering is there any respect for rz at landers college beside for rabbi es shlita is yh noted in anyway as a rz myself i am disgusted with the anti rz things i hear at landers considering many of the sudents came from hesder yeshivas

  3. Anon- I'm a "rz" and a student at Lander; perhaps you'd like to email me so we can discuss this in private? The comments section of this post isn't the ideal venue for such a discussion...

  4. Here's a slightly toungue-in-cheek philosophical question...if a respected publication publishes an anonymous letter that paints a particular segment of society in a bad light, has the publication essentially committed lashon hara against all the people in that group? Whether or not any of the Yated letters in question are true, haven't they had the effect of painting all men studying in kollel on their in-law's dime in a bad light? At a minimum, won't most parents who are paying for their son-in-law's studying wonder if their SIL wrote the letter?

  5. Either the first letter or the second is false.

    This proves that trolls can live outside the Internet.

    Every time we think that we are immune to a common human evil, we weaken our defense against it.

    This is true for trolls, alcoholism, domestic violence, sexual abuse, arrogance, and complacency.

  6. What are RZ's?

    And... maybe I'm just missing the whole point here- but why would it make a difference if a letter is anonymous or not? People can express the same views with a name as they do without one... Unless what you're saying is that if forced to take a name they will not say anything that they won't back up, ensuring some level of restraint and moderation... But can't a person make up a name anyway?

  7. I think that the whole problem lies with this statement:"they presume that a responsible publication vets their letters." The problem is with the Yated and its clearly not having in place a policy that deals responsibly with letters to the editor. "Real" newspapers have specific policies for verifying letters to the editor before they are published--I know, I spent some time as an intern and my job was just that. "Real" newspapers do not publish fakes just to get a buzz going.

  8. Aha. Thanks for the clarification.

  9. SE - Amen.

    Anon - ? I'm not sure why this is relevant on this post; feel free to e-mail me.

    Fern - Mhm. I essentially felt the same when hearing it was a fake.

    JF - Agreed.

    M - Religious Zionists. The point is that the publication should be able to verify the name and as much of the situation as possible. Nothing is foolproof, but there are standards and every statement should at least be traceable to someone.

    ProfK - I think that the whole problem lies with this statement:"they presume that a responsible publication vets their letters."

    That was my point. The Yated obviously does not, and therein lies the issue.

  10. Also, and this is besides the point - there was such an uproar regarding the letter because it COULD have been true. It's not too hard to believe (however wrong this is) that some son-in-laws do feel this way. I don't think it has to do with people being gullible, rather they're following society's/the system's way of thinking...

  11. After reading the most recent letter:

    I have no pity for the responses they received to their first letter, they were all completely desreved.

    Had they actually wrote this letter the first time I do not think it is going too far to say that the vast majority of responses would have been in their favor.

  12. Pretzel - While true, I don't know if that's a fair statement. I am not a fan of that kind of thinking.

    G - Well, that's about half of what I'd say in a post on it. Agreed completely.