Editorial — How often does McClatchy read inmates’ mail? Probably not very often, and these attempts at sensationalizing article on abortion, Roeder are signs of bias.


The same Associated Press article, printed in two papers.  Both are owned by the same company, McClatchy.  Two very different headlines.  And not much to report.

Here is The Kansas City Star’s headline about Scott Roeder, who is charged with murdering Wichita late-term abortionist George Tiller:  “Roeder mailings say killings justified.”

It’s difficult to out-abortion The Kansas City Star, which recently won a “Maggie” Award from Planned Parenthood (named after Margaret Sanger, the early 20th-century supporter of abortion and eugenics, and founder of Planned Parenthood).

But with its July 3 headline for the same AP article The Wichita Eagle one-ups The Star:  “Tiller shooting suspect writing to abortion foes from jail.”

It’s not until — count them — SEVEN paragraphs into the article that one reads, “No one has accused Roeder of breaking any laws because of his jailhouse correspondence.”

So, ultimately, this entire article is on the topic of the legal activity of writing letters.

An important tie-in to this story occurred nearly a month ago, as this July 3 article states:

But local and federal law enforcement agencies took seriously a threat Roeder made during a June 7 interview with the Associated Press that there are “many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal.”

A judge raised Roeder’s bond to $20 million, citing his comment to the AP, after a prosecutor argued Roeder’s ability to get his message widely disseminated should lead a reasonable person to believe he is engaged in “alleged acts of American terrorism.

Roeder’s June 7 comments have already been well-reported.  With this new article about Roeder’s outgoing mail, one would hope to learn something new.  Surely, there’s something more to the story, right?

Is the LEVEL of writing activity unique somehow to Roeder?  Actually, the article never tells us:  The Eagle does not inform the reader about how many letters are outgoing from Roeder’s Sedgwick County jail cell.  What little we do learn indicates that Roeder’s amount of writing activity is quite typical.  In paragraphs 12 and 13 from the article, one reads:

Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said he has assigned a trusted person to read all of Roeder’s incoming and outgoing mail. He said Roeder has received about 100 letters.

Jail officials typically check incoming mail for contraband such as pornography or drugs but do not attempt to read all of the more than 97,000 pieces of mail inmates get each year unless there is a specific concern, such as in Roeder’s case.

Are officers treating Roeder’s mail differently than the average inmate?

Outgoing mail is normally sealed by inmates and not read by prison officials.

OK, so the Sheriff’s office is reading Roeder’s outgoing mail, when it typically does not read the letters of county inmates.  Perhaps the content of Roeder’s incoming and outgoing letters is leading law enforcement officials to want to communicate concern to the public.  Paragraph nine:

FBI and Justice Department officials declined to comment about whether they were concerned about Roeder’s jailhouse contacts. The Sedgwick County public defender’s office, which is representing Roeder, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. And the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s office declined to speak about the matter.

Is this, then, a case of law enforcement not doing its job?  We understand that, when government fails to do its job, it is the role of the media to challenge the government.  So, is the content of these letters obviously concerning, or are these letters written to newsworthy criminals?  Or, is the number of criminals on Roeder’s outgoing mailing list a newsworthy figure?

It turns out that only three names are mentioned by The Wichita Eagle, with regard to the recipients of Roeder’s mail.  None of these individuals is a convicted criminal.  Only two of them are confirmed to be “abortion foes.”  Only one is reported to have ever been jailed.  And only one supports Roeder’s violent acts (and that person has evidently never been jailed or charged for anything noteworthy).  These are the three individuals listed by The Eagle.

  • Rev. Donald Spitz: The Eagle reports that he has an “Army of God” Web site that compares George Tiller to Adolf Hitler, and that Spitz supports the murder of abortionists.  Paragraph 17 tells us, “he had never heard of Roeder until Roeder’s arrest and said they have never spoken specifically about the Tiller shooting.”  And paragraph 18 says, “”[Spitz] said authorities had not contacted him about Roeder and that he has no plans to kill an abortion doctor himself.”
  • Linda Wolfe:  The Eagle describes her as “an Oregon activist who has been jailed about 50 times for anti-abortion activities.”  The reader is not told what these “activities” have been.  The article says that Wolfe is “close friends with a woman convicted of shooting Tiller in 1993,” but there is no elaboration on the meaning of “close friends.”  It’s not explained to the reader until the 19th paragraph that Roeder only mailed Wolfe after she wrote to him that “she no longer believed killing abortion providers was justifiable.”
  • Angel Dillard:  Described as “a Christian-music songwriter from Valley Center.”  The Eagle never tells us what what her views are on abortion.

She’s been questioned several times since striking up a friendship with Roeder after the Tiller shooting.

“They just wanted to check us out and make sure we weren’t some nuts that were planning to pick up where Roeder left off,” Dillard said. “We have no plans to do anything of violence to anyone. We are reaching out to someone who we know is totally alone right now.”

Dillard and her husband have exchanged several letters with Roeder and spoken to him by phone, and she said she plans to visit him next week. She said Roeder has not spoken about Tiller’s killing, and has only shared scripture and asked her to pray for an end to abortion.

To summarize what we learn, with certainty, from a Wichita Eagle article whose headline is “Tiller shooting suspect writing to abortion foes from jail.”:

  • Sedgwick County inmates receive about 100,000 pieces of mail every year.
  • Scott Roeder has received about 100 pieces of mail.
  • The Sheriff has assigned somebody to read Roeder’s outgoing mail.  This is typically not the case for Sedgwick County inmates.
  • We don’t know how many letters have been mailed by Roeder.  We don’t know the total number of mail recipients.  We do know that Roeder has written three different individuals.
  • Roeder has written letters to two confirmed “abortion foes.”
  • To be an “abortion foe” appears to still be legal.
  • Only one of Roeder’s outgoing letters has been written to an individual who supports Roeder’s activity (Donald Spitz).  But Spitz has never met Roeder, they have never talked on the phone, and there are apparently no plans for the two to meet or talk.  Spitz has mailed Roeder pre-printed pamphlets which (we assume) contain words that support the murder of abortionists, but we are left (through the article’s silence) to assume that these pamphlets are non-specific to Roeder’s situation, and that they were likely printed prior to Tiller’s murder.  There doesn’t appear to be any substantial individualized communication between the two.
  • Two of these three outgoing Roeder letters are to individuals who oppose Roeder’s support of violence.
  • Perhaps the most newsworthy piece of new information is buried near the end of the article:  no law enforcement officials have contacted Spitz with regard to Roeder, but a Christian music artist who prays for Roeder’s well-being has been “questioned several times.”

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