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To Our Readers (and Writers)

Saturday, October 2, 2004; Page A20

WE RECEIVED THE following letter from a woman in Yonkers, N.Y.: "Dear editor: This debate made it clear: John Kerry is a leader we can trust to tell us the truth when it comes to our nation's security. George Bush has had his chance; I'm ready for a new direction."

Cogent, succinct, personal -- everything we look for in a letter. So why are we writing about it here, instead of publishing it in the columns to the right? Unfortunately, the letter, perfect in every other way, arrived in our electronic in-box Thursday afternoon, four hours and 14 minutes before debate moderator Jim Lehrer posed his first question.

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_____News From Iraq_____
Italians Divided After Return of 'Simonas' (The Washington Post, Oct 2, 2004)
Candidates Resume Debate on the Stump (The Washington Post, Oct 2, 2004)
Troops Battle to Control Samarra (The Washington Post, Oct 2, 2004)
More News from Iraq
Bush's Real Opponent (The Washington Post, Oct 2, 2004)
A Matter of Force -- and Fairness (The Washington Post, Oct 1, 2004)
Grand Delusions (The Washington Post, Sep 30, 2004)
The First Debate (The Washington Post, Oct 2, 2004)
The First Debate (The Washington Post, Oct 1, 2004)
Questions to Debate (The Washington Post, Sep 29, 2004)

The reader in Yonkers was just one of many hundreds of people who took advice, and often text, from partisan Web sites in sending us debate-related letters. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe, for example, sent e-mails to supporters saying, "Immediately after the debate, go online and write a letter to the editor of your local paper. If you feel John Kerry commanded the debate and had a clear plan for fixing the mess in Iraq, put it in your letter. If you feel George Bush dodged tough questions on Iraq and didn't level with voters, put it in your letter." In 2000, "Republicans stole the post-debate spin," Mr. McAuliffe said, and an avalanche of letters would help prevent a recurrence. He then thoughtfully provided a sample letter, ready to be copied and pasted, as well as easy ways to find The Post's and other newspapers' e-mail addresses.

Not many readers responded so enthusiastically to Mr. McAuliffe as to give us their reviews before the debate took place, but many began weighing in during and after the debate; certain phrases began cropping up again and again.

Now, we love to hear from readers, and we admire the sincerity and passion of anyone who wants to get involved in the political process. But our goal is to present a sampling of genuine reader opinion, not to become one more battlefield in the spin wars raging all around. And we especially like to hear from readers who can think and write for themselves.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company