Questions I Have About the Burlington (VT) Free Press

    I lived in Vermont from 1985 to 1997 during which time I wrote frequent letters to the Burlington Free Press. A small number of them were actually printed. Since moving away, back to my native Midwest, I have continued to follow the events up there by way of the Free Press website which publishes a reduced version of the paper online daily.

    And, I have continued sending letters. I have no idea how many, perhaps a hundred or more, out of which two or maybe three have been printed. Granted, I have submitted most of them, via e-mail, knowing it was highly unlikely they would ever be published, but I thought it would be of some use for the editorial staff to see a point of view on various issues from someone who had lived in the area for quite some time .

    It just puzzles me,  why it is that I have written so many letters which merited being published but were not, while at the same time the Letters column was filled with the same old inarticulate, groundless, frenzied ravings over and over. I have some questions:

    When the Fletcher Allen Renaissance Project scandal was unfolding, where CEO Bill Boettcher had hidden the true cost of the project, many letters were printed criticizing him and his severance package. One person’s letter spoke of his outpatient procedure that took relatively little time and cost $2000 or so, and he attributed this high cost to Boettcher’s severance package. Simple math showed that if only outpatients were paying for this severance package, the cost to each was well under a dollar – hardly sufficient to be a significant portion of that $2000 outpatient bill. I wrote to the Free Press expressing this information but my letter was not printed; however, numerous other letters critical of Boettcher’s severance package were printed. I wonder why mine was not.

    I believe it was several days after submitting that letter about Boettcher’s severance package vs. the cost of a patient’s bill, that the Free Press had only one letter they felt justified publishing, and it was a piece extolling the sex drive and orgasmic capabilities of middle-aged women. While I’m sure that is a matter of great interest (?), was it moreso than a clarification of the simply-wrong charges about the cost of Boettcher’s severance?

    When the Fletcher Allen nurses were unionizing, there was oddly very little mention made to the cost of such a nursing contract nor its likely impact on the cost of care at FAHC. Pro- or anti-union, the cost of the contract was going to be the same, and it was going to utterly dwarf Boettcher’s severance package. I wrote to express that the public ought to at least know the cost of this movement. The Free Press, evidently behind the idea of unionizing the nurses (though not such great union employers themselves as I recall) printed many a letter in support of this happening, while my letter with some hard facts and figures did not merit publication. Neither did any other such as mine. Why not?

    One would think there would be plenty of room for at least a few more of my submissions. I have read scores of letters frantically calling our President a terrorist, demanding (!) that he be impeached / resign immediately / resign along with the entire House and Senate / (fill in the idiocy of your choice) and one would think that enough of these insane rants was enough, but still they appear, sometimes more than one in a day. Meanwhile, an outsider’s opinion – albeit from an outsider who lived there for "only" ¼ of his life – is not worthy of print.

    One letter writer of note, a Ms. Cooke-Bassett, recently submitted a fantasized question-and-answer session in which she put words in the mouth of the President and then basically condemned and ridiculed him for her overactive imagination. That was worthy of print? Really?

    The same day as that idiotic nonsense by Ms. Cooke-Bassett was printed, at the very end of the Letters column was a letter from the family of a proud US serviceman. The letter wanted to point out that in a recent article about the serviceman, it was not mentioned that he had been married for 30 years to the same woman, nor was it mentioned that he and his wife have two fine sons currently and proudly serving in Iraq as Apache helicopter pilots. Having read the Free Press Letters column for 20+ years by now, it’s no mystery nor surprise to me that the anti-Bush letter was at the top of the column, while a proud letter about service to the US military was dropped to the bottom. Back in the days of World War 2 (which predates me by some years), when the US took part in a war against people who had not attacked us, we were allowed to support our country and government instead of being encouraged to automatically seek the anti-US view. That letter from the serviceman about his wife and his sons in the service would have been at the top of the column, while that hallucination by Ms. Kook-Bassett would have likely been relegated to the ‘crackpot’ file. Not today however.

    Not long ago two letters appeared in the Free Press advertising an appearance by an anti-government person with a presentation claiming that the whole 9/11 attack was a made-up government plot. One of the letters claimed that the attack on the Pentagon didn’t even involve an aircraft because allegedly ‘no airplane wreckage was found there'. It takes very, very little effort to disprove such nonsense. Of course the plain truth is that airplane wreckage WAS found (and photographed), the bodies of many of the passengers of the plane (those not utterly destroyed by the impact) WERE found at the site, and the approach and impact of the airliner WERE witnessed by numerous credible persons, including an editor from USA Today which OWNS the Free Press. I submitted a letter to question why the Free Press would even print a letter filled with such easily disproven lies. Was my letter printed? Silly question. However, at least one more letter alleging belief in this 9/11 conspiracy garbage WAS printed. Why?

    I could go on and on with things I’ve written about which never saw publication though they certainly were of more value than the sex drive of menopausal women or crackpot theories about conspiracies. Who ever read in the Free Press about the falling scholastic achievement in the face of the smallest class sizes to be found? Who ever read any of my letters with dollars-and-cents figures or credible quotations which dispute the onslaught of angry nonsense which is submitted and printed? Who ever read my responses to the countless letters saying “Bush lied to the world about WMD’s and must be impeached!” when I replied with quotes from Democrats - including Al Gore - and world leaders alike, all of whom made the exact same WMD statements about Iraq, long before Bush even took office? I'm sure I've read letters extolling the wonders of the City Market, despite that the prices are too high and the selection too limited for it to be a realistic everyday grocery store for most people, but who read my letters asking about what was so great about a store with limited selection, very high prices, and which doesn't even pay taxes? Nobody read them. But they sure did read countless charges that Bush, and Bush alone, told us these WMD ‘lies’. They read countless letters telling us how rough the striking teachers have it, and others somehow tying teacher's salaries to the quality of education, as though greed means a better teacher. Well, money can't buy you love, and love of money doesn't get you the best teachers either. I wrote once to offer some suggestions on how Vermont might improve their nightmare of a Motor Vehicles department, where you have to take half a day off work just to get a set of license plates. Where I live now, they have a much better system. I submitted a letter about this - was it printed? All together now: "NO."

    And I can ask ‘Why?’ a thousand times, but the fact is that I know why. The Free Press has an agenda, and the fact that my letters aren’t from a ‘Vermonter’ negates the value of any truth or alternate argument which I may submit. Truth is truth, from wherever it comes, but apparently it’s more important to print the same old, same old tired rants, charges, and ‘demands’ from people who claim to be "outraged", "ashamed", "incredibly outraged", "incredibly ashamed", etc. than to print something worth actually reading and considering. I certainly hope "the Vermont Way" I keep reading about doesn't mean excluding worthwhile truth just because it comes from someone who no longer lives in Vermont. How about some diversity of ideas? I have no doubt that many of mine were worth publishing in the Letters column, but almost none have been.

    So, rather than just whine about my problems, I'm taking some action... follow the links to my comments on letters I've written to the Burlington Free Press. I can't get them printed in the paper so I'll print them myself. I like my editorial policy much better....

  • November 5, 2005
  • November 6, 2005
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