This column will appear on Friday's editorial page of The Star.
A week ago in this very spot, The Star published a letter signed “Cletus Winfred, Crest High School class of 1989.” The letter strongly criticized Crest Coach Roy Kirby for a quotation in a previous edition of The Star, among other things.
Shortly thereafter, Crest Principal Roger Harris e-mailed me expressing concerns about the authenticity of the letter. Specifically, he wrote: “I just wanted you to know that nobody with the name Cletus Winfred has ever graduated from Crest High, in 1989 or any other year. In addition, our records show that nobody named Cletus Winfred has ever even been enrolled at Crest High. Neither, do we find anyone even close to that name (Wenfred, Winfreed, or anything similar.)”
At that point, we retraced our steps.
I would like to walk you through that process.
Here is how confirmation works on Letters to the Editor:
1) A letter is faxed, mailed or e-mailed to The Star.
2) If it includes a phone number (as requested in our Letter to the Editor submission policy), we call that number to confirm authorship.
3) If there is no number, sometimes we are able to track down the author by cross-referencing the name or a return address in the phone book.
4) If we can’t do that, we hold the letter until the author calls to ask why it hasn’t been published, then we go through the process again.
5) If we receive anonymous letters, we contact the author and let he or she know that it is our policy not to publish anonymous letters. Sometimes the author will agree to attach his or her name to the letter, sometimes not.
This letter was unusual. It was signed “Disgusted former Charger player (Class of ’89)
It also included a note at the bottom: “Please contact me if more information is needed. Ivory Miller” with a phone number and the address of the Cleveland County Law Enforcement Center.
We contacted Ms. Miller, who gave us an e-mail address for Winfred. We e-mailed him and spoke with him on the telephone to confirm the letter. This followed our normal confirmation procedures and the procedures used by newspapers nationwide.
Then came the e-mail from Principal Harris, which clearly meant we needed to obtain further confirmation.
We spoke with the person we believed to be the letter’s author again on Friday. He agreed to fax us a copy of his diploma.
We have not received that fax.
I e-mailed him again on Monday and received no response.
I called him on Wednesday and left a message, but received no response.
I called him again on Thursday morning and a recording said the number had been disconnected.
At that point, I walked to the courthouse and spoke with Ms. Miller, who works in the information services department.
She said Winfred was an “associate” of hers, but that she didn’t know him very well. She said she graduated in 1989 and “knew of him” as a student at Crest. When I asked her to explain how Winfred was not in any Crest records she said she didn’t know.
“All I did was drop off the letter, after that I really don’t know anything,” she said.
Ms. Miller said she didn’t have a phone number for Winfred and didn’t know anybody who did, but agreed to e-mail him to have him get in touch with The Star.
Ultimately, when the facts are not conclusive, one must rely on one’s intuition and experience.
My intuition tells me that Ms. Miller’s explanation does not hold water and that the failure of “Winfred” to bolster his authenticity or return our calls this week is telling.
Barring evidence that bolsters “Winfred’s” claim to be who he says he is, The Star is withdrawing its authentication of this letter.
For my part, the editing of the letter was poor. I like to let people “have their say,” but the language in this letter was scathing and I should have taken a stronger hand in toning that down.
Given all of this, we apologize to Crest Coach Roy Kirby, Principal Roger Harris and the Crest High School family.
If you have any questions or additional information on this matter, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (704) 484-7000.