Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias Journey with me, will you, as we tip-toe across the editorial pages of the Plain Talk, specifically in the letter to the editor section.

Here are actual headlines of many of the written correspondence received by us from readers concerning the Tim Johnson/John Thune race. We�ve published these letters in the last six months:

? Johnson critic is Thune employee (critical of Thune)

? Thune�s plan bad for Social Security (critical of Thune)

? Johnson fighting domestic violence (praises Johnson)

? Insulted by negative ads (critical of Thune)

? Who represents South Dakota? (critical of Johnson)

? Sen. Johnson looks out for South Dakota (praises Johnson and also takes a negative swipe at Thune)

? Johnson supports relief for seniors (positive, obviously)

? Thune is chess piece (critical, obviously)

? Senate bill better for farmers (in praise of Johnson)

? Johnson work important for farmer (positive)

? Johnson fights for education (positive for Johnson)

? Why is Thune seeking Senate office? (critical of Thune)

? We will be well served by Johnson (positive)

? Proud of Tim Johnson (positive)

? Johnson has proven record (positive)

? Negative ads tiresome, untrue (critical of negative campaigning, especially if its directed against Johnson)

? Sick of negative ads (very similar to above letter)

? Johnson fights for South Dakotans (tone is obvious)

? Johnson appreciated (positive)

According to my scorecard, the final tally, in terms of supportive letters, is Johnson-10, Thune-0.

In terms of letters that criticize the candidates, the score is Johnson-1, Thune-6.

I estimate that the number of letters that actually talked about important issues of the Senate campaign this year total six. That�s of the 19 letters we�ve published so far.

This review of trends on our editorial page has compelled us to enact some reforms in our letter to the editor policy � changes that were inspired, in part, by Randall Beck of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

He noted Sunday that his newspaper has been inundated by a lot of negative, shrill commentary from letter writers in both the Thune and Johnson camps.

So he�s decided not to publish them on the Argus� opinion page any longer. They will appear, however, on the Argus Web page.

It�s no accident that Johnson has received so many more positive letters here at the Plain Talk.

Yes, he�s a hometown boy.

Yes, Clay County is a bastion of Democratic politics. But clearly, many of the positive Johnson letters that land on my desk are the product of a well-oiled political machine.

The letters are mass-produced. Many of them aren�t written by their signers, but by the campaign. We know this because there have been instances we�ve received letters that are similar in every respect. The type is in the same font. The margins are the same width. And sometimes, they read exactly the same, word for word.

Many of these fall into the �Johnson fighting hard for South Dakota� category.

Starting this week, anything that looks like a �canned� letter will be filed in a big can under my desk I reserve for trash.

Please don�t misunderstand. We haven�t enacted an outright ban on Thune-Johnson letters.

We�ve decided, however to publish only those letters that have some substantive meat hanging on their bones.

Unlike the Argus, the negative letters won�t be published on our Web page.

Political campaigns are fueled by issues. Our readers want to know Johnson�s and Thune�s stand on a myriad of issues � from agriculture and prescription drugs to taxes and Social Security.

So, all you letter writers out there � let�s stick to issues. If you choose to slam either one of the Senate candidates, you:

1) obviously have very little to contribute to the public discourse on the political scene, and

2) your letter will be routed to the Vermillion landfill.

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