This past Sunday, The Argus-Press published a letter regarding Owosso Mayor Ben Frederick, who is running for the 85th state House seat as a Republican.
The letter was signed by “Margaret Fischer” of Owosso. While the phone number and email address both appeared legitimate — leading to a voice message system in the case of the phone number — it has since been brought to our attention that the writer may not exist or, at least, used a false name to mask their identity.
When I called the phone number again Thursday morning, Annie Braidwood, wife of Democratic Sheriff George Braidwood and past Democratic candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives’ 85th District, answered.
Annie Braidwood purported, during the phone conversation with me, that the letter writer is a real person — a friend, she said — who used her maiden rather than married name because of her employment position. She said she allowed the friend to use her phone number as a point of contact.
However, Braidwood declined to reveal “Margaret’s” actual last name, claiming she “did not know it.”
After expressing my anger to Braidwood about someone using a false last name and providing what she said was her own phone number, she was told to have her friend contact the newspaper to verify the person’s existence, and an email was sent to the individual requesting the same.
Someone claiming to be Margaret later responded to the email — but didn’t call. Margaret claimed the phone number belongs to a June Caponi, who happens to be Braidwood’s mom. Regardless, it apparently isn’t Margaret’s. And Margaret still ignored the request for her real name, phone number or other contact information.
She asked, “Why is it a big deal to get an anonymous letter. Maybe I know a few people in the Republican party that strongly support Mr. Frederick and I don’t want them to know.”
Let me reiterate a few points for people who wish to write opinion letters.
First, I hate being lied to. I really hate it.
Second, we don’t publish anonymous letters. If you want to share your opinion, sign your name. I do it every time I write, I expect the same courtesy from the public.
Third, we don’t allow pseudonyms — fake names for the layman. If you want to share your opinion — sign your real name. If it’s important, you should have the integrity and courage to stand by your convictions. Frankly, I hate cowards.
Margaret’s assertion that she sent “an anonymous letter” appalls me. She sent no anonymous letter — I throw those in the trash without even considering publication.
She committed fraud by intentionally misleading the newspaper and the public about her identity.
Margaret suggests we failed to adequately check out the letter prior to publication — “I would think it was your responsibility to check on the letter prior to printing it.” No kidding. A classic blame-the-victim comment.
There’s little a newspaper or other media outlet can do to protect itself against intentional fraud — as is the case here. The individual provided a real phone number linked to an answering machine. I can only surmise that had I called and simply asked Braidwood or Caponi for Margaret, they would have said she wasn’t there at the moment and, perhaps, had her call me later. If I had gotten hold of Margaret, I have no doubt she would have simply regurgitated the same false name.
We have published nearly 400 letters this year. And most of the time, I know our letter writers — many are regulars, or nearly so — or I am familiar enough with them to have no doubts about their existence.
And, most of the time, people may spout off about politicians and other public figures as they wish. All of us who live in the public eye are fair game for complaints and accusations, it comes with the territory.
While I have probably thrown out 100 letters this year because they were anonymous, crazy, illegible or otherwise unprintable, I don’t have time — nor does any media outlet — to fact check every point in every letter. We delete or correct obvious errors of fact. We delete obviously libelous information and we add editor’s notes to explain things when it seems necessary.
As long as real people want to share real, honest opinions about things, they are welcome to share them.
While I can’t say Braidwood is the author of the questionable letter, I am disturbed by her involvement in the situation. It was an unfortunate choice on her part, at least.