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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Sometimes the commentary becomes the news

By Jake Sherlock
January 8, 2010 | 3:19 p.m. CST

There is no option for readers to delete their own comments at ColumbiaMissourian.com.  Should there be?

That question came up this week after a passionate discussion took place regarding the actions of Marching Mizzou following the Texas Bowl.

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Margaret Fries, of The Woodlands, Texas, wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the band for playing at the same time Navy’s Drum and Bugle Corp. was performing following the Midshipmen’s 35-13 victory over the Tigers.

That’s when the comments took off.

Members of Marching Mizzou and other MU supporters came to the band’s defense, saying there was a miscommunication between the two camps and no disrespect was intended. Other Navy fans weighed in with criticisms similar to Fries’. Some of the comments were respectful and thoughtful – others were anything but.

Similar conversations were held on the Texas Bowl’s Facebook page. At Chron.com, home of the Houston Chronicle, one commenter posted the e-mail addresses of various MU officials to encourage irate fans to demand an apology.

Explanations that it was all just a mix-up were offered. MU officials apologized. While some fans remained skeptical (read their comments here), others accepted the explanation. And for a few, writer’s remorse set in.

Several commenters e-mailed to ask if their posts could be removed. One or two indicated that they expected there to be a button where users could delete their own posts. Fries, too, asked that her letter be removed from the Web site.

The decision was made not to remove the letter (to the best of my knowledge, the Missourian has never deleted a letter). It was the piece that sparked the conversation. There is no value in pretending it didn’t happen.

As for the comments, any that broke the posting rules – e.g. any that were personal attacks or included profanities – were removed. The rest were kept. These comments, just like the letter that sparked them, offer differing perspectives for this story. Eliminating those perspectives is like rewriting history, as if to say someone else’s view of what happened after the game didn’t matter.

Commentaries – whether they be traditional newspaper editorials, columns, letters to the editor and now online comments – offer context and understanding to controversial issues. The Navy fans who criticized Marching Mizzou may not have realized how dedicated those students are to their music. The MU folks who think  the other fans are just a bunch of “sore winners” may not have realized how important tradition is to a service academy like Navy.

Did we get it right, or should we allow commenters to remove their own posts whenever they have second thoughts?

Jake Sherlock is the Missourian's opinion section editor. He loves talking to readers and encourages you to e-mail him at SherlockJ@missouri.edu, give him a call at (573) 882-9951 or tweet him on Twitter @JakeSherlock.