Monday, August 29, 2011

Dear Public :

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the partisanship of our nation's politics, the mean-spiritedness of our social debates and the incivility of our public discourse. All this accomplishes nothing, except more of the same. Boorishness blows from the halls of Congress, sweeps across the midwest into the streets of my own town, then circles round back. Even the newspaper here in Brookings, South Dakota, gets caught up in the bluster.

Last week, on the front page of the Brookings Register, an editorial piece opposed to the Obama administration carried the full text of this email, which had recently shown up in the columnist's inbox:

Dear Employees:

As the CEO of this organization, I have resigned myself to the fact that Barack Obama is our President, and that our taxes and government fees will increase in a BIG way.

To compensate for these increases, our prices would have to increase by about 10%. But since we cannot increase our prices right now due to the dismal state of the economy, we will have to lay off 60 of our employees instead.

This has really been bothering me, since I believe we are family here and I didn't know how to choose who would have to go.

So, this is what I did. I walked through our parking lots and found 60 `Obama' bumper stickers on our employees' cars and have decided these folks will be the ones to let go.

I can't think of a more fair way to approach this problem. They voted for change... I gave it to them.

I will see the rest of you at the annual company picnic.

As soon as I started reading this email, I suspected it wasn't what it claimed to be. Within minutes I had confirmed my hunch at Snopes.com, perhaps the world's leading researcher of contemporary legends, hoaxes and rumors. The "Obama bumper sticker layoff letter" was a complete fabrication, yet the columnist presented it as if it were true. On the front page, mind you. No fact-checking. Not one nod to journalistic standards.

For me, this was one time too many. I wrote a "letter to the editor" in response, which was printed in today's Register. I share that letter with you here as my public plea that we all make a better effort to discipline our speech:

No more rumors please, Mr. Curley!

In last Friday’s “More Flotsam and Jetsam,” Mr. Curley led off by lamenting “Poor President Obama!” and his economic policies. In support of his lament, he printed an email he’d received, “purportedly [a copy of] a letter from a CEO to her employees” explaining why she was laying off workers whose vehicles displayed Obama bumper stickers. The lay-offs were necessary, she said, because Obama had become president and hurt business “in a BIG way.” Since Obama supporters had wanted change, she said, she was giving it to them.

According to Snopes.com, a website that does top-notch rumor research, this very email started circulating on the internet no later than one hour after Obama won the presidency. It’s unknown who wrote the original email or why, but obviously it was (at the very least) a partisan punch thrown before Obama had even delivered his victory speech. I could easily infer a racist motive from this set of facts, but I’ll refrain, so as not to start another rumor.

All politics and economics aside (I have too few of my 300 words left to get into those), I would like to ask Mr. Curley to make better use of his column inches than publishing an email that informed folks recognize as pure partisan fabrication. We who read the paper, whether on the left, right or in the middle, deserve more substance. Most of us receive such emails more often than we’d like, and we probably forward them more often than we should. Let’s all do our due diligence. No matter how much we might agree with such messages, let’s agree not to forward (or publish) them without first fact-checking their claims. Otherwise we’re merely engaging in the spread of spite--and of that, I think you’ll agree, this nation needs no more.

Sincerely,
Phyllis Cole-Dai

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