How writing a letter to the editor went wrong

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AUBURN — On Election Day at town hall, voters heading to cast their ballots early in the morning passed a couple of tables along the way.

One touted a possible new vanity license plate spreading awareness of childhood cancer, and the other promoted a petition to get in-home care on the ballot next year.

When Josette Malacaria stopped at the petition table, she said she wound up talking with Marie Follayttar Smith, one of the founders of Mainers for Accountable Leadership.

Smith said she was there to gather signatures for the Maine People’s Alliance effort to promote a ballot question next year on in-home care for seniors.

The two women talked for quite awhile about politics and more. As the conversation wound down, Smith suggested Malacaria write a letter to the editor.

That didn’t turn out well.

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Malacaria said she wrote a letter on Smith’s laptop about her experience with assisted living and home care. Smith told her she liked it.

When Malacaria departed, Smith decided to go ahead and submit it to the Sun Journal.

In the process, Smith said, she hit “copy, paste, send too fast” and wound up submitting a letter with botched editing that failed to reflect what Malacaria had written.

The letter appeared in print on Nov. 9, after an editor confirmed with Malacaria that she had written one.

What neither Malacaria nor the newspaper knew, however, was that the letter wasn’t what she’d written outside the polling place.

“There were four words of mine and all the rest were hers,” Malacaria said. “I was appalled.”

As printed, the letter mostly attacked U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a 2nd District Republican.

Malacaria said she is “not crazy” about the congressman and has never voted for him. But he wasn’t the focus of her original letter.

After Malacaria notified the paper of the problem, Smith called her to apologize.

“I was doing too much at the same time. I should not have multi-tasked,” she said. “It was really stupid.”

Smith said that Malacaria “felt trespassed and she should.”

Smith said that in the course of her political organizing, she’s helped a few people write letters to the editor but in the other cases, she ran them by the writer before ensuring they were submitted. In Malacaria’s case, she said, she didn’t, in part because she didn’t have an email address but also because she was simply moving too quickly.

“I should have pressed pause,” Smith said.

scollins@sunjournal.com

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