A letter to the editor on January 6 took issue with IU Health, claiming that an IU Health employee said some things that the author finds offensive and hurtful. (I am intentionally not linking to the letter. It is not difficult to find on the website.) Now, there are things within the letter that I could take issue with, but there is a more basic issue here than the content of the letter – one outlined by a previous editor of the Herald-Times:
“I’ve rejected many letters similar to this one about an individual’s dispute with a teacher, a specific business, a coach or even a personal interaction with a government official. If I were to run your letter, it would set a precedent for running others in which one person’s grievance against another person were to be aired in the Letters to the Editor column. That’s not an appropriate use of that column. Further, it would not be fair to the person on the receiving end of the criticism.”
Bob Zaltsberg went on to say that a complaint like that might result in a news story, but that it is unfair to publish a letter to the editor with one person’s side of a private conversation, attacking someone without giving him or her the ability to respond to that criticism before it appears in print. I often took issue with Zaltsberg’s policies at the Herald-Times, but this is a wise one.
Unfortunately, it appears that new Herald-Times editor Rich Jackson does not share Zaltsberg’s view on publishing an accusation of bad behavior in a letter to the editor. What if the author was making it up? What if the author was telling the truth, but gave a very one-sided view of the conversation and left out critical exculpatory facts? Just from the text of the letter, one would think IU Health allows employees to be mean-spirited. What is worse, IU Health is likely legally prohibited from defending itself due to privacy regulations and/or internal policy.
From an ethical standpoint, the letter should not have been published. If Jackson feels this is an issue that deserves to be addressed in print, it should have been done via a news story to offer a chance for a more balanced (and likely more truthful) perspective. The letter writer could easily share the story on social media or a blog, so there is no censorship. It is unfortunate that Jackson tossed aside a good standard in favor of printing sensationalism.