Editor: Ellie Light's Letter Was Good So We Didn't Verify Her Identity

January 26th, 2010 3:25 PM
The Sheboygan Press, which published Ellie Light's infamous letter on January 17, admitted Tuesday that its opinion editor failed to follow company protocol of confirming Light's identity.

Joe Gulig, the paper's resident watchdog, claimed to have started the process by asking for information, but never followed through to see if the phone number was real. The paper admitted that the fiasco "affects credibility" and apologized to their readers for being sloppy.

The possible culprit according to Tuesday's editorial, "The letter was well-written and made sense" (emphasis added):

The letter we received did not include a hometown for the writer, nor did it include a phone number for verification purposes, both of which we require in order for a letter to be considered for publication. We sent a reply e-mail asking the writer to provide that information, which was done in a subsequent e-mail on Jan 10.

But here is where we made a mistake and the reason for an apology to our readers.

Opinion Page Editor Joe Gulig, whose job it is to verify letters, did not fully follow through seeking verification of the letter and published it on Sunday, Jan. 17.

Sheboygan Press policy is to verify all letters via personal contact or a phone call. Had this policy been fully followed with the Light letter, we may have been able to discover that the writer did not live in Howards Grove and that the letter needed further scrutiny.

According to the column, Gulig explained that "the letter was well-written and made sense," apparently so much so that it was worth the embarrassment of ignoring policy.

That, incidentally, is exactly the same reason given by Politico's Ben Smith as to why he didn't bother vetting Light either:

A couple of weeks ago I published an articulate, unsolicited email from, as I wrote, "someone named Ellie Light."

It was one of several such e-mails I'd gotten from a Yahoo account under that name, and the author didn't respond to a request for more information. That didn't really bother me - the author wasn't making any factual claims, or personal ones, just an argument.

In other words, Light was able to bypass the confirmation process in at least two places simply by writing a pro-Obama spiel that the editor enjoyed. It "didn't bother" Smith that someone refused to confirm their identity as long as their letter was articulate.

How nice to know the guards are so vigilant at the Fourth Estate.

Nonetheless, hats off must be given to the Sheboygan Press for being brave enough to apologize. Out of 68 publications that carried Light's work, only a small handful have addressed the issue for their readers.

And if you're looking for pressure to come down on the papers for a response, don't expect the mainstream media to help. On Monday, the Los Angeles Times used its blog to cover Ellie Light - not to criticize lazy editors, but to brag that mainstream newspapers were still so influential:

As the sparring continues over what Ellie Light means, let's pause to celebrate this remarkable if overlooked aspect of the story: at a time when newspapers are in economic free-fall and the future of the industry is said to be in doubt, turns out that quaint anachronism called The Letter to the Editor still pack some punch.

Smack in the middle of a nationwide epidemic of unscrupulous editors publishing fishy Obama propaganda, the LA Times predictably found a way to celebrate.

That's your mainstream media hard at work, folks.