This is what the Rutland Herald had to say about how readers responded to a community member’s letter to the editor:
The other day, we published a letter to the editor from someone who acknowledged that they were against the coronavirus vaccination and had not received it. The response within the community has been unfortunately unsurprising.
Our policy, as stated on our website and occasionally in our print publication is “We endeavor to publish all letters, but they should be short (no more than 300 words) and to the point. … Letters should include the writer’s full name, telephone number, and e-mail for verification. All requested information is solely for the purpose of verifying comments. It will not be used for any solicitation purposes. Letters that are unsigned, libelous, in poor taste, or incomprehensible will not be published.”
The way social media threads allow the audience to watch the rapid descent down the rabbit hole, we could have done the same here. But per our policy, many people who submitted responses did not pass muster, so the worst submissions never saw their glory off the press. Many, if not most of the letters, were unsigned, libelous, in poor taste or incomprehensible.
Add to the mix, a flurry of voicemail messages that were in the same vein, most of them falling under the categories of “in poor taste” and “incomprehensible.”
This was a most embarrassing display.
Your neighbors were castigating a member of your own community for having a different, albeit unpopular opinion.
Your neighbors were viciously mocking someone they did not know, making claims of mental illness and developmental issues (using some terms that have not been in the lexicon for decades now).
And your neighbors were openly suggesting the original letter writer was better off dead.
Also added to this toxic mix were the dozen or so people who reached out to us to lecture the newspaper on the irresponsibility of publishing a point of view of someone opposed to this specific vaccination because “it might encourage others”; or that we were giving press time to a position that “doesn’t deserve any ink”; or that we should devote space on the editorial page “to things that matter.”
The really bold among you went so far as to expose a special arrogance by telling us that you “don’t want to read things I don’t agree with.”
In summary: We didn’t fit your algorithm.
All of this is representative of three things: intolerance, ignorance, and a complete lack of (or regard for) understanding of the Bill of Rights.
Newspapers, which are constitutional protected under Freedom of the Press, are the place where communities can have a dialogue about the issues of the day. In fact, we encourage that dialogue. A vibrant editorial page is important because it is a barometer of the community at large. If a newspaper through its coverage generates a response from the community — good, bad or ugly — then the newspaper’s role is well served. It is providing a place for a dialogue.
As we have stated in this space many times, communities are made up of many points of view. And the myriad perspectives that are out there need to be heard, understood and celebrated. We need to listen to one another, even when we disagree. We need to agree to disagree. Because we would not want to live in a place where we all thought the same way, lived the same way, believed the same way. That would be intolerance.
Choosing to ignore the thoughts and opinions of others, and settling upon “just the facts” that suit an argument and no others is just ignorance. You see, bubbles are a tough place to exist, because when they pop, you find yourself woefully out of step with others outside your fragile, little world.
And the tenets of our Constitution, the one that we point to all of the time as the “word of the founders,” provide for those freedoms to have opinions, share them how we want and to a larger audience than our like-minded selves. Wanting to shut down the flow of information for the sake of cleansing the message received is a dangerous wish when we also want to fly flags, own guns and defend rights.
On days like today, where we have to level our sights on those among us who would rather obstruct, berate and hate, we find ourselves grateful for the role we play in providing information, sharing perspectives and giving air to the issues.
Because if one thing has been made more clear it is that we must be presented with facts and information in order to further develop the dialogue we need in order to understand one another as a community.
What we won’t tolerate is the lack of accountability by members of the community who won’t stand behind their opinions, preferring to bully from the cheap seats with no regard for others.