A bit of letter writing history
October 8, 2002
During my employment in the late-1990s at the Aspen Daily News I regularly found myself tasked with confirming the identity of letter writers.
On several occasions I failed to do a thorough enough job of it, and subsequently one or two of Roger Marolt’s outspoken personae were born onto the Daily News editorial pages. For this I am rightfully embarrassed and, like others, a little surprised at how easily and how thoroughly Mr. Marolt was able to turn the system on its nose.
Let’s go back a few years: It was the managing editor of The Aspen Times who pulled the plug on one of Marolt’s early characters, the very hate-able Lee Anne Marlets.
The Times had been stymied in its attempts to reach Marlets back in 1999, as had the Daily News ? there being no number listed for her, letters had instead been sent to her Snowbunny Lane address. The Aspen Times had its letter returned first.
The next day The Times printed one of its famously puffy editor’s notes, in which it was disclosed that “Lee Anne Marlets is a fictional character and The Aspen Times does not, has not and never shall print letters composed by figments of its or anyone else’s imagination,” or some such thing ? despite the now-obvious fact that it would.
This of course left the Daily News rather egg-faced, and set the stage for Pete Luhn to cash in by writing a letter to the editor in which he claimed responsibility for having perpetrated the Marlets hoax.
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It was an utterly believable premise: One imagined Luhn holed up in his cabin, sitting before the typewriter, cackling madly as he scribed the thoughts of a personality stranger than his own. It fit, you know?
In the Daily News’ eagerness to uphold its policies, and I suppose also deflect the anger of the community, it was decided Pete Luhn would thereafter be banned from publishing his usual enlightened commentary on pages 6 and 7 of the Aspen Daily News.
Luhn quickly recanted his admission of responsibility, but having found its scapegoat, the Daily News was at first none too willing to believe it had been fooled a second time. The readership, on the other hand, was not long on tolerance for what some labeled censorship ? and expressed that sentiment overwhelmingly in one of the paper’s largest-ever Tipline responses.
More or less as a result of that outcry, the paper recapitulated and Luhn was allowed to submit letters again to the Daily News (not that he took the paper up on it. I think Pete had his feathers pretty ruffled by the whole affair, despite having basically brought it on himself).
Those who recall the Marlets debacle will remember that in its wake, a vocal chunk of the community spoke clearly to say it wants unrestricted dialogue and the free exchange of ideas ? “real” or not.
I think that’s important. The notion that a newspaper would single out an individual over whom to exercise prior restraint, in retribution for his having exposed a weakness in its own system … well, that dog didn’t hunt.
Yet lo, I see The Aspen Times is now doing exactly that in reaction to Mr. Marolt. Maybe the editorial staff feels some action is better than none. Maybe they’re right.
In any case I wanted to retell the story of Lee Anne Marlets and Pete Luhn in hopes that those who would punish Mr. Marolt for his “crime against community” will, at least, remember history.