When I became the Managing Editor of the Kalihwisaks about a decade ago, I threw open the door to any and all letters for any topic or length. I reasoned at people would understand that these were letters, opinions, not necessarily fact, and that people would attempt to maintain a semi-civil tone in their letter writing.
Dang, was I wrong.
So, back came the word limit of 500 words and some controls on what could and couldn’t be printed. For example, if you were accusing someone of specific actions or misdeeds, there had to be documentation. Want to talk money? We need documentation. Want to engage in name calling? That’s what the internet is for.
Eventually, it was requested that the letter limit go to 250 words. I didn’t fight it because people were still calling letters “articles”.
Now there’s a petition by Frank Cornelius to throw open the doors to all letters 400 words or less. I have no problem with the word length, but hard experience has taught me that there has to be limits on what can be printed in the paper.
As written, I would be obligated to print any letter sent as long as it was 400 words in length. There are no provisions for swear words, name calling, or out and out lies – what’s referred to as libel when done in print form.
I imagine there are certain letters that we can all agree shouldn’t get printed. For example, once in a while we get letters that consist of four pages of loops, like someone was writing a cursive l repeatedly. My question is – how many words is that? We had a person upset that someone called her a name in our letters (back in the wild no rules policy era) but her letter in response was worse than a Trump Tweet.
While most of us could agree those letters shouldn’t be printed in the Kalihwisaks, some of the petitioner’s letters tend to fall in a grey area. On occasion, Mr. Cornelius throws out dollar amounts without documentation, and accuses the former administrators of Oneida Seven Generations Corporation of theft and felonious activities without proof. Potentially, some his letters rise to the level of libel which could result in himself and the Kalihwisaks being sued. You might be saying “but you can’t sue a sovereign tribe.” No, but it still costs money to send a lawyer to court to tell the judge that.
Mr. Cornelius is using “free speech” to force his opinions on the pages of the Kalihwisaks, but free speech doesn’t mean using Oneida’s resources for one’s own personal crusade. It’s being able to say and write what you wish, but you may have to pay for the ink and paper (or computer and WIFI connection). Mr. Cornelius can share his opinions in many ways; he can make copies and distribute them at meetings, submit them to other area papers such as the Green Bay Press Gazette or the Oneida Times, or he can publish them online such as on the Oneida Eye or social media sites like Facebook. The ways one can get into trouble with free speech are endless; let’s not drag the Kalihwisaks in there.