BROOKE GLADSTONE: We have a few regular correspondents, but no one so loyal as Reba Shimansky of Brooklyn who writes to dozens of journals and newspapers. She's also a regular caller on radio talk shows. She is a vehement defender of Democrats, writing some 750 letters over the last 10 years on their behalf in a one-woman attempt to counter what she perceives as right-wing media bias though she says only about 1 in 10 is published. The New Yorker's Seth Mnookin discovered Ms. Shimansky and wrote about her crusade, and now she is pleased to join us. Reba, welcome to OTM.
REBA SHIMANSKY: Well, thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do you regard this practice of regular letter-writing? Is it an avocation? Is it a hobby?
REBA SHIMANSKY: I would call it a hobby. Yes, some people play tennis; some people go bowling; some people play chess. I fill my spare time--reading political journals and writing letters when it moves me -- when I feel it in my gut.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You're in contact with a group of other similarly-inclined people -- Avid Letter Writers. Are you the most prolific letter writer in your circle?
REBA SHIMANSKY: No. As I said, over the year I've been exchanging e-mails with other like-minded people, and I found out that there are other people who get published more often who write better letters, but I just happen to be in the right place at the right time. That, that's all.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now I know you don't get that many of your letters published, but you do hear from journalists from time to time.
REBA SHIMANSKY:Yes. I do. I've kept on writing letters to Martin Paetz [sp?] who was the publisher at that time of The New Republic complaining about Michael Kelly [sp?] and Andrew Sullivan, and eventually Michael Kelly was fired. Of course he went on to bigger and better things. I don't think it really hurt him. And Andrew Sullivan was eventually demoted. I don't think my letter did it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But do any of the people that you regularly write to ever write back and say all right! Reba! Knock it off! [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
REBA SHIMANSKY:Definitely. Matter of fact, Walter Shapiro of USA Today sent me an e-mail once -- he said "Am I the beneficiary of all your tirades?" and I had to assure him that, that I [sic] wasn't.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You know, I have to ask this question, because going through some of your letters here, some of them are incredibly harsh. Your letter regarding Barbara Olson [sp?] who went down in one of the planes during the terrorist attacks-- you said "She was a hateful, horrible person and she got what she deserved."
REBA SHIMANSKY: Mm-hm.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I mean this stuff would suggest that you are something of a loon!
REBA SHIMANSKY: Well I would say that in case of Barbara Olson, I just -- I always despised her. She always would say the most hateful things about Democrats, and then she would say it with a smile on her face, and I mean I could say I'm-- feel sorry for her and be hypocritical, but I don't! I think she got what she deserves and let people think what they want of me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But in terms of, of the language of some of your letters -- this one in the New York Press regarding Russ Smith [sp?], you wrote "Only a Bush sycophant like Russ Smith could call that low-life, worthless, ne'er do well squatter-in-the-White House a gentleman."
REBA SHIMANSKY: Well you should see what he writes about Democrats and other people in the media such as Frank Rich, the deceased Lars Erik Nelson [sp?], you know people like that who don't agree with his point of view. I'm just responding in kind.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why do you think you've never been published in the New York Times?
REBA SHIMANSKY:I think it's be-- for two reasons: one, because I think I'm a little too emotional; nol--not cerebral enough; and also because when I write to the Times I'm usually writing criticism, and the Times doesn't like to be criticized.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:How do you feel when you're leafing through the papers and you see something and you go "Ah-ha! Eureka!" and you run to your word processor? Is it a, is it a great feeling or are you agitated?
REBA SHIMANSKY: No, I, I'll tell you the truth. If I write a letter, it's usually I'm pretty hostile, but when I'm finished I've gotten rid of my anger and I feel terrific.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Do you ever wonder if you have any impact for all the energy you put into it?
REBA SHIMANSKY:I can't really say for sure; people say to me why do you do it? What difference does it make? Well, one letter isn't going to make a difference, but if there are a hundred people that feel the same way and they take the trouble to send e-mails or write, then it does make a difference!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: If you knew for certain that you had absolutely no impact at all, would it make any difference? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
REBA SHIMANSKY:No. If it does have an impact, that's great; but this is something I do for my own psychological cleansing; it has nothing to do with making an im-- if I can make an impact, that's wonderful. But let's face it -- if I'm going to write to somebody who has a very right wing agenda -- if I'm going to write to John Podhoretz [sp?] of the New York Post or Michael Kelly, I'm not going to change the way they feel, but I like to give them a piece of my mind, and that makes me feel good.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much. Reba Shimansky is a partisan Democrat and an avid writer of letters to the editor. [THEME MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD:That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Janeen Price and Katya Rogers with Sean Landis and Michael Kavanagh; engineered by Scott Strickland, Dylan Keefe and George Edwards, and edited-- by Brooke. We had help from Jim Colgan and Lu Olkowski. Our web master is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Mike Pesca is our producer at large, Arun Rath our senior producer and Dean Capello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and get free transcripts at onthemedia.org and e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is On the Media from National Public Radio. I'm Brooke Gladstone.