Monday, February 1, 2010

T&G readers not entitled to their own facts

The late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts." Unfortunately, that sentiment does not apply to the letters to the editor that appear in the Telegram & Gazette each day. 

On an almost daily basis, the letters to the editor include one or more missives that include factually false information. Here is the one from today that got me going:
To all of the hardworking, taxpaying, middle class Americans out there who, like myself, continue to struggle through our failing economy, here is what going green means to me. Unless you are very wealthy — or at the other end of the spectrum, extremely poor — expect no help whatsoever, if you should decide to go green and replace older windows, insulate your home, or restore an aging furnace.

Going green, for most of us, means being left out in the cold.
This is demonstrably untrue. I appreciate that our society allows people to be as uninformed as they want to be. And I'm very grateful that our newspapers can print just about whatever they want without interference. But at what point should the opinion page editor say, "you know, that is a lie," and either chuck the letter or add an editor's note that reads "Editor's note: According to the IRS, federal tax credits of up to $1,500 are available to taxpayers who make energy-efficient home improvements."?

Federal tax credits are available to anyone who chooses to "replace older windows, insulate your home, or restore an aging furnace." The only requirement is that you do so with materials that have been rated highly efficient. Using those materials is not difficult to do and they are not hard to find. In fact, Home Depot, Lowe's and other home improvement stores list qualifying products on their websites. If you go to the store in person, materials that qualify for tax credits are clearly marked.

And those materials are not boutique products that are premium priced. The energy-efficient shingles cost the same as those that do not qualify for the credit, the difference is that qualifying shingles are a lighter color and reflect more of the sun's rays, cutting down on air conditioning costs. The energy-efficient insulation is the same Fiberglas insulation we have used for years; as long as the R rating is high enough, it qualifies for a credit. Nearly every storm door on sale at Home Depot qualifies for a credit as long as it is paired with a wood or steel door. If you are buying a storm door to replace an older model, it is likely going to qualify for a credit.

I know, because in the last year we replaced the roof on a section of our house, replaced two storm doors, and added insulation to the ceiling of another section of house. Because we did all of those things with materials that are rated highly efficient, we will be getting a tax credit of 30% of our cost when we file next month.

It seems to me that newspapers either should avoid publishing letters that are factually false or make sure that readers know that the writer is not entitled to her own facts.
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