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Star Struck

Dear Mr. Murphy,

I have been a regular letter writer to The East Hampton Star for the last eight months or so. I frequently took exception to their editorials on national issues and gave history and context to argue against many of their opinions and conclusions. In some cases, I ridiculed them because I thought that their arguments were either absurd or outright fabrications. On occasion, I agreed with them and let them know that, too.

The Star's stated "Letters" policy according to its masthead is: "The Star publishes EVERY letter to the editor it receives exclusively, with the exception of those sent anonymously, or those judged to be proselytizing, an invasion of privacy, libelous or obscene."

I was therefore surprised to find that the Star refused to print my letter of July 23, 2006 and a revised version of that letter of July 29, 2006. This letter ridiculed leading Democratic politicians who have accused President Bush of lying about Saddam's W.M.D. and the supposed lack thereof. I did this by directly quoting them and giving the dates of their similar utterances. The main point of the letter was that the Israelis might very well find out the whereabouts of those weapons of mass destruction as the forces of Hamas and Hezbollah became trapped and increasingly desperate due to the recent actions of the Israeli Defense Forces.

I also pointed out that these two terrorist organizations were merely agents of Syria and Iran. I worried that the Israelis might fall into the anti-Semitic quagmire which is the U.N. I further pointed out that it was likely that the Iranians already have a nuclear weapon, since it only took the U.S. four years to develop one from scratch during WW II. I ended by saying that we should all be Israelis now.

I see nothing of a disqualifying nature in either letter. Both letters were exclusive, e-mailed and hand delivered as usual. The first letter was rejected without notice. The second revised version was rejected by someone named Jennifer, the Star's "letters" editor, as being out of date. This was because my letter referred back to a Star editorial of January 12th, 2006 entitled "W.M.D. and Space Aliens," which ridiculed anyone who remembered that there was a good chance that those weapons existed because Saddam had used them on the Kurds.

Jennifer further pointed out in a phone call that "I had no business writing these letters and that I was NOT a "journalist." It was at that point that I began laughing hysterically. I ended the call shortly thereafter as an obvious waste of time. I followed this up with a letter to the Star's Editor, David Rattray and Publisher, Helen S. Rattray. This letter reminded Helen Rattray of her past lofty but now vacant "Connections" Column of June 3, 1999. This column contained the following paragraph: "While reasonable people may disagree about whether there should be limits to free speech, the open letters policy, or what the editor who preceded me, Everett T. Rattray, used to call Freedom Hall on the letters pages, is indeed based on principle."

No longer.

David Rattray and his editorial board wrote the following in their July 6th, 2006 editorial entitled "A Refresher Course [I] in the U.S. Constitution": "Watch out for next year, however, when the village may transfer the parade to a private organization, which could legally impose limits on marchers."

This editorial chastised the Mayor of Southampton for his attempted refusal to allow "anti-war" protesters from marching in the Fourth of July Parade. The last paragraph of this editorial is as follows: "We hope that this provides a refresher course in the U.S. Constitution to officials in Southampton and elsewhere, who have all too quick to ignore this country's bedrock principles. And on the Fourth of July, no less. There's a little reading we'd like to recommend. There will be a quiz."

Stunningly hypocritical. Stunningly arrogant. Stunningly stupid.

As I had no idea as to whether this was the view of the Rattrays or Jennifer freelancing, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I have had employees. I know that no matter how well intentioned they do not always do as I might have done in a similar circumstance. I sent them each a letter on August 2nd, from the East Hampton Post Office certified mail return receipt requested. An agent of the Rattrays signed the green return cards on August 16th, two weeks later. Huh?

Is it just me or are they this ambivalent about all their certified mail? This is the behavior from a supposedly responsible adult voice of the community? It is reasonably clear to me now that Jennifer was not "freelancing," but rather this episode is a demonstration of the Rattrays' lack of internal fortitude.

The first, subsequent and only responses by their minions, to my letters were personal attacks on me, having nothing to do with any part of the subject at hand. I was told to "Put a sock in it!" by one of them. Gee! Yep! Sure, I'll voluntarily give up MY First Amendment Rights on the basis of his say so.

If this were not such a serious breach of their stated policy, I would find it amusing. After all, if they had a worthwhile argument to make, why didn't they? If they had a meaningful rebuttal, why didn't they make it? If they could make even a rational argument why would they need to throw their legacy, Everett T. Rattray, under the bus?

The Star's stated "Letters" policy needs to be changed to reflect the truth: "The Star publishes every letter to the editor it receives exclusively, with the exception of those sent anonymously, or those judged to be anti-proselytizing, an invasion of privacy, libelous or obscene. Unless, of course we disagree with them." Sort of like: "Depends on what the meaning of is, is."

I can understand their hatred of me, frankly if I were them I'd hate me too. The difference is that I have researched everything that I wrote so I could defeat them on the battlefield of ideas. If I were them, I would have a better knowledge of the Constitution and the representative republic it sets forth. It is their words which hang them, not the Constitution.

The final straw may have been my wondering if the publisher was still humming "The Battle Hymn of the Democracy"? Since that pesky representative republic part was news to her in one of her columns.

Theirs is a momentary Pyrrhic victory of censorship. Shooting the messenger. Please remember this is deception by omission if you read the Star and remember the instruction judges give to juries: "Once a witness has been found to be untruthful, you may disregard all aspects of their testimony." What are newspapers but daily or weekly witnesses to history?

After all, I am being censored not because I might be wrong but rather because they are terrified that I am correct.

Editor's Note: The Independent does indeed publish every letter we receive.

August 22, 2006

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