Charles McCollum

Charles McCollum

I’m not caving in.

A regular letter writer on this page was the subject of a police standoff on Monday, and people are asking why the heck the newspaper gives space to this “nut-job.”

David D’Addabbo is what might be called a constitutionalist or, as Logan police described him, someone who views himself as a “sovereign citizen.” His letters are laden with anti-government language and references to arcane legal principals, and a few years back he was convicted of threatening a federal agent.

So it was no surprise to us that D’Addabbo was the guy holed up in his truck and surrounded by police in the 7-Eleven parking lot at 4th North and Main. Neither was it a surprise that he was feeding police the same kind of rhetoric he uses in his monthly submissions to the paper. In the middle of it all, D’Addabbo even asked to talk to someone at the newspaper.

A lot of Herald Journal readers probably recognized his name, and even if they didn’t, our article about the incident made note of his prolific newspaper letter writing. This miffed some people on social media.

“You gave this man a platform? Bravo HJ,” said one obviously sarcastic online post.

Another commenter had a more detailed indictment of the newspaper:

“I hope you’ll take into consideration that the delusional letters to the editor you seem to publish regardless of content from men who would engage in a police situation like this is poor editorial management. I hope in the future rather than posting a letter to the editor of some person ranting about ‘God’s army’ and other nonsense, you have the good taste to simply leave the trash with the beholder.”

A couple of other people came to the newspaper’s defense, and that gave me a little serotonin boost. It also helped strengthen my resolve to keep running this man’s letters and others like it no matter how unpalatable they are for some readers.

Here’s why — but my answer is not going to be what you might expect. This isn’t actually a free speech issue as some of our defenders argued, although that’s certainly something that inspires journalists daily and serves as an underpinning for everything we do.

Yes, the U.S. Constitution grants citizens the right to free speech, but that doesn’t mean a newspaper, magazine or website is legally bound to print what everybody has to say, no more than a restaurant has to serve your favorite meal. The Herald Journal is a private business.

I’ve had this conversation many times with local residents who don’t like the newspaper’s word limit on letters. They want more space than allotted and argue the Herald Journal is illegally trying to silence them. Typically, I come back at them with the restaurant analogy, then explain the paper is happy to give everybody in Cache Valley one 450-word letter per month for life, and if that’s not enough, they can still talk themselves blue in the face to whoever will listen at the Angie’s counter, tweet themselves silly or grab a megaphone and broadcast their opinions from a street corner.

We’ve seen a few street-corner preachers and pontificators here in Logan over the past few years, and to my knowledge police have never told them to move along. The newspaper can and does tell people to move along, but not before they’ve been given what we deem a reasonable opportunity to speak their peace — namely, one letter a month for life.

The paper’s letters policy is basically this: If you have something to say, let’s hear it. If someone disagrees, let’s hear that too.

Of course, there are limits to what we’ll publish. Letters that pose a libel risk, invade someone’s privacy or make questionable statements of fact have to be stopped at the gate, as do threats and hate speech. But in my opinion, Mr. D’Addabbo has not crossed these lines. He is simply espousing a viewpoint, albeit an extreme viewpoint, no more or less valid than yours, mine or Donald Trump’s.

The goal of our opinion page is to present a broad spectrum of perspectives, especially those in the Cache Valley community. Fairness demands such an approach, but there is an even more lofty rationale for our letters policy, and that is to create and maintain an “open forum” for the Cache Valley citizenry for the betterment of all. Yes, we’re that idealistic.

This concept goes back to ancient Greece, where the populace gathered in marketplaces and town centers to openly discuss politics, philosophy and issues of the day. People don’t mingle in town squares as they once did, but newspapers fulfill that function in many ways.

The thing is, it’s not a true open forum if some people’s voices aren’t allowed — and it’s my firm belief that only by allowing a full airing of public opinion and feelings can we effectively process the issues that divide us.

How will your views fare in the marketplace of ideas? How do rants like David D’Addabo’s fare in the marketplace of ideas? If someone’s point of view gets laughed at, shouted down, shamed or effectively refuted, the human collective ultimately benefits from the exchange.

In addition to getting all possible solutions on the table, an open forum serves as group therapy, allowing people to release pent up emotions and grievances. This can be an ugly process, to be sure, but repressed and festering attitudes pose a bigger problem to society than unfiltered dialogue, it seems to me.

Google won’t help me find out who originally said “Light is the best disinfectant,” but that’s the credo I hold to when the going gets tough on the front lines of the opinion wars, like it has this week. I’m holding pretty tight to that principle right now while waiting with some anxiety for the next submission from one David D’Addabbo.

Charlie McCollum is the managing editor of The Herald Journal. He can be reached at cmccollum@hjnews.com or 435-792-7220.