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Sun., Feb. 19, 2017

Gary Crooks: Political stress spreads to letters

The nation’s psychologists are worried about an expanding stress bubble, according to a Washington Post article in Thursday’s edition.

“The American Psychological Association polls Americans about their stress every year, and it’s common for many of those polled to report anxiety around personal life issues like work and money. This time, however, people are also citing politics as a serious stressor in their lives. Last year, the APA … heard from its members that their patients were experiencing high levels of anxiety in the lead-up to the presidential election. Since November, those emotions haven’t let up. They’ve actually gotten worse with political talk consuming therapy sessions.”

The Spokesman-Review is seeing the same with letters to the editor. Normally, there’s a lull after an election, but we are slammed. And, as always, people are more compelled to write when they’re unhappy. But the anger has been taken up a notch.

Calm, substantive argumentation has been overwhelmed by full-on personal attacks from writers of all political persuasions. The invective is like a multi-car pileup on Interstate 90. I no sooner clear off one adjectival collision, and two more rants come careening my way. Accompanying this ad hominem overload has been an epidemic of “open letters,” in which writers get in the face of their subject.

Please. Stop. I’m all out of orange cones and flares.

If you want to write a letter to a particular politician, address it to them and affix a stamp. Or, put it on their Facebook page. But don’t copy it to us as a letter to the editor. We edit the Opinion Page for our readers, so write accordingly. For instance, “Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers should hold a town hall.” Not: “Dear cowardly Cathy, you better hold a. …”

Along with being cliché, the open letter lends itself to getting personal. We don’t want that. We want your best thoughts on issues and events of the day. Don’t tell us that someone is an idiot; show us. It’s more persuasive.

We’re also getting more letters in which the writer plays reporter. For instance, someone calls a politician’s office and writes a blow-by-blow account. We can’t use letters like that, because we can’t confirm their accuracy. Similarly, we are not the community’s Complaint Department. We don’t have time to check out your bad experience with a business or government agency, and this isn’t Yelp.

Try to limit your commentary to events and issues our readers would know about, such as articles in this newspaper. We may bypass your letter if it’s filled with information we can’t readily confirm. And keep it current. Readers won’t remember that article from last month, let alone one from 10 years ago.

Let’s revisit the basic rules:

  • Include a street address and daytime phone number for confirmation purposes. This information will not be published.
  • Limit the letter to 200 words. If you use our online form, it will count for you.
  • Submit no more than one letter per month. The clock for the next letter begins ticking on publication day.

One more thing: We have a big backlog of letters, so be patient. If events overcome your letter, we may skip it to get to more timely ones. Things are moving quickly these days. Also, that letter you’re writing today about an event happening soon may already be too late. Think ahead.

To repeat what I wrote in July, thanks to those who take the time to write letters to the editor. They’re an important part of the community conversation on current events. But, please, calm down and ease up on the name-calling. And no more open letters.

Yes, these are stressful times, but we must maintain some semblance of civility. Just know that you’re not alone.

Opinion Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.



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