An explanation of the deleted letter to the editor
Leada Gore, Editor
I like a joke as much as the next person. What I don’t like, however, is someone playing a “joke” involving the newspaper, our opinion page and members of the community.
Last week, we received a letter about the Hartselle High School basketball program. The letter was signed by Rusty Shackelford and contained a local P.O. box and a phone number for verification. We had received other letters from this person but, because of the nature of the content and its unverifiable claims, those were not published.
On this letter, however, a phone call verified that someone calling himself Rusty Shackelford wrote the letter. A small part of the letter had to be edited for content (it was potentially libelous) but the rest appeared in the newspaper.
The day after publication, I received a telephone call questioning the author’s identity. I called the number listed on the letter and the person who answered identified himself as Rusty Shackelford. I said someone wanted to discuss his letter with him and would it be OK if I provided his phone number to them. He said the number was his work phone but it would be OK if I gave it out.
The other person called the number and then, puzzled, called me back. They asked me to verify the number and I did. The number was correct. I was then told the person who answered the phone denied being Rusty Shackelford. I called the number, too, and spoke to someone who sounded just like the person I had spoken to earlier. However, this time, the person denied being Rusty Shackelford or having just spoken to me.
Our sports editor, Justin Schuver, checked the name “Rusty Shackelford” online to see if we could find a local address. He discovered that the Urban Dictionary defines the name “Rusty Shackelford” as (television character) “Dale Gribble's fake name on (television program) King of the Hill. Whenever you want to allude that you don't want your real identity to be known for something, say you are "Rusty Shackelford.”
There were also factual problems with the letter, mainly those involving the win/loss records of the team.
For these reasons, especially the fact I had been lied to, I opted to pull the letter immediately from our website. There’s also a correction in this week’s newspaper.
Because of this situation, we’re changing the way we will handle signed letters to the editor. From this point forward, letters will have to contain a phone number and verifiable address that matches the name of the letter’s author. No P.O. boxes or cell phone numbers will be accepted.
This whole process, and other problems we’ve had with similar things occurring on e-sound off, is prompting even stricter regulations there, as well. E-sound off is not a forum in the mode of al.com. It is a comment board, where items may be left regarding particular stories or items of community interest.
We’ve had problems with people signing other people’s names to e-sound off comments. We’ve also had people accuse the newspaper of everything from accepting bribes to being part of some large conspiracy in relation to what comments appear on e-sound off. Let me make this clear – the buck for e-sound off starts and stops with me. I make the call on each comment and if you have questions about any comment that you see or don’t see, call me at 773-6566.
What I can assure you, however, is that comments of a libelous nature will not appear on e-sound off or in the newspaper. As a guide, you can count on the following being deleted every time:
This newspaper’s editorial page and e-sound off are designed to provide a forum for the community. They are not designed to attack individuals or make unsubstantiated claims. It’s a shame that we have a couple of people who are determined to ruin things for others and as a result, negate real concerns about real issues.
I received several calls Friday about the Shackelford letter. Once I explained the situation to the callers, all said they understood why the letter had been pulled. Several, however, said they were glad someone had written the letter, no matter if the person had lied about their name.