by Frank Schnittger
Sun Aug 31st, 2008 at 10:28:29 PM EST
In the last two weeks I have had half a dozen Letters to the Editor published in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, and the Sunday Tribune on the topics of the South Ossetia crisis and the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.
The Editors of those papers seem to delight in publishing letters which are sometimes scathingly personal in response. This is unusual in Ireland as the laws of libel are fairly strict and I am not a public figure.
I don't have a particular problem with this (as I don't have much of a reputation to lose) although my family and friends do seem to think this is all evidence of advancing dementia on my part. Apparently only cranks and serial complainers write Letters to the Editor.
I do have a problem, however, when a paper then refuses me a right of reply to such personalised criticism - as The Irish Times recently did. Eventually, after a letter suggesting I might seek redress by other means, my response was printed.
Now, however, the Irish Times have printed another personalised critical response from one of my antagonists. I'm beginning to think the Letters page editor is either very sore at me, or is engaging in the favourite Irish pastime of needling people in the hope of provoking an intemperate outburst.
It's probably all in a good cause if it provokes a certain amount of discussion of two key issues, and it's not as if the stances I have taken aren't likely to be controversial in some quarters. I'm just surprised at the quality of the letters The Irish Times, in particular, often seems to publish. Many of my best letters (it seems to me) never make it into print, and an awful lot of truly awful ones seem to make it through.
I once complained against the rule that no verse was allowed by writing a letter as follows:
Prosaic Instructions to Irish Times Letter Writers
Dear Madam, Editor, Irish Times
You state that within the bounds of taste
And the avoidance of libel crimes
You will wide ranging views embrace
You further advise that we be terse
Lest our efforts should go to waste
But why the statement that no verse
Will ever your letters pages grace?
Needless to say, it wasn't published.
On another occasion I empathised with another correspondent aggrieved that her letters weren't being published:
Moving on to bigger things - The Irish Times - Wed, Feb 20, 2008
Madam - Ita McCormack (February 14th) is under the quaint delusion that letters in The Irish Times are published on merit, regardless of the title or prestige of the signatory. From experience, I can share with her the real guidelines which must be followed:
1. Never criticise The Irish Times itself.
2. Do not depart too far from the "dominant narrative" as contained in Irish Times Editorials.
3. Never antagonise the Letters Page editor by demanding a right of reply when you are criticised by name on the Letters page.
4. Sarcastic or silly one-liners have priority.
5. If writing a longer letter on a more serious and necessarily complex subject, always lend your letter some spurious authority by signing it as President of the Lesser Spotted Bumpkins Society or some such worthy organisation, or by claiming to be a "think tank" such as "Libertas", which is anything but a think tank as a simple perusal of its website will confirm.
Failing the above, write instead on some serious online forum which is not limited to contacts of the small-minded coterie which now runs The Irish Times and seeks to pass itself off as a serious forum for open debate. Most of us have long realised that it is anything but and have moved on the bigger and better things elsewhere. - Yours, etc,
Needless to say, the Irish Times edited out my explicit reference to The European Tribune in the last paragraph of the above letter. Are they really afraid of competition from The European Tribune?
Previous Letters and responses in the current series of controversies have been published here in Anti-Americans should stop masquerading as anti-war [SECOND UPDATE]
From NO to maybe on Lisbon and Bringing new users to The European Tribune
For those not yet bored by the South Ossetia controversy, I include the Letter of my latest detractor below:
Aftermath of war in Caucasus - The Irish Times - Mon, Sep 01, 2008
Madam, - Frank Schnittger (August 25th) claims that "evidence indicates" that Georgia's US lobbyist Randy Scheunemann secretly encouraged Georgia's actions in South Ossetia.
Well, I haven't seen a shred of evidence to support his claim about Mr Scheunemann. And the assertion that war may have occurred to help give John McCain a "bounce" in the polls is one of the weirdest things I have yet read on the conflict. The overwhelming evidence available is that Russia has been destabilising and provoking Georgia for years.
Mr Schnittger is right about the considerable interdependence between western and eastern Europe. However, Russia's intimidation of its tiny neighbours and former colonies has cast a shadow over east-west co-operation.
- Yours, etc,
SEAN STEELE, Kilfenora Road, Kimmage, Dublin 12.
My response, not yet published, is as follows:
Madam, - SEAN STEELE (Letters 1/9/08) says he hasn't found "a shred of evidence" to support my contention that John McCain's principle foreign policy adviser and potential National Security Adviser, Randy Scheunemann, is implicated in the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia.
Well, if he doesn't believe me, perhaps he will believe Pat Buchanan, former US Presidential candidate and doyen of US arch-conservatives since Ronald Reagan, who has accused Randy Scheunemann of Treason - see Pat Buchanan - "And None Dare Call it Treason", Yahoo news, 22 August, http://news.yahoo.com/s/uc/20080822/cm_uc_crpbux/op_337140
He writes there that Scheunemann "..is a dual loyalist, a foreign agent whose assignment is to get America committed to spilling the blood of her sons for client regimes who have made this moral mercenary a rich man".
"..Not only did Scheunemann's two-man lobbying firm receive $730,000 since 2001 to get Georgia a NATO war guarantee, he was paid by Romania and Latvia to do the same. And he succeeded"
"Scheunemann's resume as a War Party apparatchik is lengthy. He signed the PNAC (Project for the New American Century) letter to President Clinton urging war on Iraq, four years before 9-11. "
"Scheunemann also came close to succeeding with Georgia. "Had he done so, U.S. soldiers and Marines from Idaho and West Virginia would be killing Russians in the Caucasus, and dying to protect Scheunemann's client, who launched this idiotic war the night of Aug. 7. That people like Scheunemann hire themselves out to put American lives on the line for their clients is a classic corruption of American democracy...."
"U.S. backing for his campaign to retrieve his lost provinces is what Saakashvili paid Scheunemann to produce. But why should Americans fight Russians to force 70,000 South Ossetians back into the custody of a regime they detest? Why not let the South Ossetians decide their own future in free elections?"
Why indeed. And if it doesn't make sense for the USA to restart the Cold War (or indeed a hot World War) over South Ossetia, why ever should Europe, Ireland, or indeed Mr. Steele wish to do so?
Perhaps other contributors here might like to share their experiences of writing Letters to the Editor, and whether you think it is worth the effort. Frankly, I only do so now when I have already written a diary on a topic, and want to put a synopsis of the argument to a wider public.
Is the Mainstream Media a waste of space, or an important means of reaching a wider audience? Does the message get diluted in a wider forum where you inevitably have to argue your case from within the context of the dominant paradigm if you want to have a good chance of being published?
What are the dos and don'ts of LTE writing? And are we about to be overtaken by video blogs in any case?