We’ve added a point to our letters guidelines. It now includes a prohibition against excessive personal comments about a person. Generally this is in regard to letters during election seasons about candidates.
This is tricky ground–some say personal characteristics say a lot about a candidate. That could be true sometimes. I recall an election back in Maryland when someone wrote a letter saying a particular candidate’s hygiene habits were so bad, when he took his socks off at night, they stood up. I was surprised the newspaper the letter appeared in ran it; it begs all kinds of questions, not least of which was, how did the writer know what the candidate’s socks did when he took them off ? Readers were left to suppose the writer was making his point by way of hyperbolic satire, but then that takes you back to the matter of why a newspaper would run a letter that flippant. Such a letter would certainly never run here. But if the writer really thought the candidate’s hygiene was perilously offensive, he could have found a more useful way to make the point–which then begs the question, again, of whether or not the letter should run. Is the person’s opinion accurate? Does he have a right to state it in print even if it were? If it were true, would it make a legitimate point about the candidate’s qualifications to hold office? To that last question, we can say perhaps. But there’s a lot to deal with in the broad consideration of the matter.