The Kage McClued story, which we broke in Thursday’s Columbian, was a fascinating mix of political intrigue, cunning and deception.
For more than three years, McClued was known as a strong conservative voice, making his opinion known.
He had an Internet e-mail thing going to get his message out and was a frequent Columbian letter writer, occasionally even being elevated to the larger role of guest opinion columnist.
Problem is — and those who read our story Thursday already know this — McClued never really existed.
He was a fake.
We now know that McClued really is Kelly Hinton, a one-time aide to state Rep. Marc Boldt. He also was executive director of the Washington Republican Party when state Sen. Don Benton was the state GOP chairman. Although Hinton now says he’s no longer in the political arena, he was when he was pretending to be McClued.
Our Thursday story raised many interesting questions, including what this kind of subterfuge says about our political structure.
Internally here, it raised other important questions. How could somebody who isn’t real get letters published in The Columbian — for more than three years?
But before I get to that answer, it’s important to understand why we won’t print unsigned letters. That’s because we feel if someone believes strongly enough in an issue, that person should be willing to come forward.
The easiest thing in the world to do is slam someone or something if the slammer doesn’t have to reveal himself. And in a very real sense, that’s what we allowed to happen when we printed McClued letters to the editor.
And that damages our credibility.
It’s also important to appreciate that anyone who really wants to circumvent the rules will find a way. Sort of like the old saying, “If someone really wants to break into your house, they will, no matter what protective system you have.”
Our problem is, we had a continual break-in for more than three years. And we didn’t even know it.
So although the occasional prankster will thwart us, we can’t allow a pattern.
Now, how did it happen? Honestly, the answer is simple. We fell asleep at the wheel. We ask that all letters to the editor have a phone number and an address in case we need to call them to confirm the letter. Problem is, we never called.
So McClued had a phone number on his letters. But we never called. For more than three years. If we had, we would have found that the tone on the other end was coming from a fax machine.
So now what? You’ve probably guessed already, but we’re calling those numbers on the letters now. Again, the occasional prankster will still get through. Newspapers all over this country have been taken advantage of. But we hope to not be taken advantage of for long periods of time.
We also hope that letter writers will play fair. One of the reasons why we weren’t making those calls is because we were trying to get your views in The Columbian as quickly as possible.
Today, the process will be a little slower. Because today it has to be. We were burned.
I’ve said before that the authors of the First Amendment — giving this country freedom of the press — knew getting information out to you would be a messy business.
I know that more than ever now.