October 28, 2020

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

Unpleasant pen pal?

The unsolicited mail received by Anne Hennen Barber

On the morning of Sept. 18, Anne Hennen Barber commented to her husband that she felt like it was going to be a good day. Little did she know that a few hours later she would be the recipient of what some people refer to as ‘hate mail’ that ruined that day and caused a great deal of hurt and frustration.

Anne went to her job as the Head Librarian in Morris where she opened the mail. In it was an envelope filled with clipped articles and a typed letter. The letter indicated that the person disagreed with a recent letter to the editor Anne had put in the newspaper. There were also clippings to refute it. Anne’s letter to the editor was titled ‘What does my sign signify?’ and talked about what Black Lives Matter means to her. 

The letter writer also indicated that the publisher of the newspaper was in agreement with the letter and refused to print a letter this person had submitted.

“I didn’t write my letter to the editor with any expectation that it would change the minds of other people,” Anne stated. “However, I have been approached by business leaders in town who didn’t know about BLM but wanted to learn more. I have had some great conversations and my letter was meant to be a kind of follow up to those conversations.”

Anne contacted the police who were able to identify the writer by an email address included on one of the documents. Michael Lackey, who also had mail sent to him in previous years, had contacted the police about his incident and they identified the same person. After police talked to the writer, he did not receive any more correspondence.

The newspaper has a policy regarding letters to the editor and each of the letters put in the newspaper has abided by the policy. The first stipulation is that the writer must subscribe to the newspaper. If letters were accepted by non-subscribers there simply would not be enough room to put them all in and picking and choosing would cause criticism.

The person who sent this unsolicited mail no longer subscribes to the Stevens County Times and thus the letters submitted were not printed. It had nothing to do with any views on part of anyone at the newspaper.

The letter must also be no more than 250 words in length. If a letter is too long, the writer can redo it so it can be printed in two different issues. There are also very specific guidelines when it comes to political letters including deadlines and options for rebuttals. 

Everyone is entitled to offer their opinion through a letter to the editor as long as these guidelines are followed. What they are not entitled to do is send anonymous mail to the writers of letters that appear there. 

“If people disagree with me and they write me a courteous and respectful letter expressing their counter-view,” stated Lackey. “I will respond in a sincere and respectful manner. I believe in honest and civil dialogue. But I object to ominous and threatening packages from anonymous sources.”

Anne added “Receiving this kind of mail at work is unpleasant. However, I do not feel threatened by it. It made me feel disappointed that this person didn’t just talk to me in person. It’s a lot of trouble for her to go through when I’m available for a conversation.”

Katie Erdman