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THIS WEEK I'm answering some of the numerous comments I received from readers in the last few weeks.

The "Blizzard of 2000"

One reader wrote to ask why The Cavalier Daily Web page poll referred to last week's snow as the "Blizzard of 2000." After all, our winter season is still in full force and, the reader noted, "Terms that are often used in the news media such as 'The Blizzard of 19XX' are usually assigned years later when they are examined in light of history.

While it may seem more prudent to withhold titles like "Blizzard of 2000" until we're certain no competition exists in the wings, early pronouncements in the press are not out of the ordinary -- in fact, they're the rule. In this case, however, we're not just name-calling. We are repeating the title bestowed upon the storm by the esteemed meteorologists at the Weather Channel (www.weather.com) who based their designation on various factual data -- temperature, wind speed, visibility and total accumulation. When you consider that Washington, D.C., received 13.5 inches in snow in January, only 3.4 inches shy their average total for an entire season, the "Blizzard of 2000" title appears to have been fairly earned.

Concurring opinions

Another reader wrote in to request that the opinion writers communicate better to ensure that columns and opinions aren't simply the same article written (and read) twice. Last Monday, the reader noted, both the lead editorial and one of the columns covered the same topic. According to the reader, "The lead editorial could have easily incorporated the one or two things added by Peter Brownfeld about separating Lee-Jackson-King Day, and he could have written about something else much less redundant."

Although I agree with the reader's sentiment -- I, too, hate to read the same thing twice over, I cannot agree with its application in this case. The opinion published by a columnist is his or her own and in no way reflects the opinion of the paper itself. The lead editorial, however, can be said to represent the opinion of The Cavalier Daily, or at least its leadership. Just as it would be wrong for an individual columnist to single-handedly decide the opinion of the paper, it would also be wrong for the editorial board to dictate the opinions presented by the paper's writers. For this reason, the opinions of the editorial board and other writers must remain separate even if they concur, as was the case last Monday.

Reporting the Jefferson paternity case

Before the semester began, a reader and member of the Jefferson family wrote and asked that I review the reporting done by The Cavalier Daily's staff on the possibility that Thomas Jefferson fathered children by Sally Hemings. Yet, before I could respond in my column, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation released a statement proclaiming its belief that "although paternity cannot be established with absolute certainty, our evaluation of the best evidence available suggests the strong likelihood that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings had a relationship over time that led to the birth of one, and perhaps all, of the known children of Sally Hemings" (Daniel P. Jordan, Pres. TJMF, "Statement on the TJMF Research Committee Report on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings").

The reader's concern stemmed from his belief that our reporters joined those of The Washington Post and other papers in believing without question or adequate examination the opinion presented in the genetic study's headline ("Jefferson Fathers His Slave's Last Child" Nature November 1998). After all, the original DNA testing reported in Nature on November 5, 1998, both Jefferson family historian Herbert Barger and the TJMF report concur, was inconclusive. The report's allegations stem from examination of various historical data, itself incomplete. Being neither a specialist in genetics nor history, I cannot add anything to the studies previously completed and suggest readers look to the articles (at www.nature.com) or the report itself (at www.Monticello.org) for further information.

What I am capable of offering, however, is my absolute certainty that this highly debatable issue was appropriately covered by The Cavalier Daily in its articles from September 1999 on. Both Peter Brownfeld and Josh Perdue acknowledge the lack of clarity present in the paternity debate in their columns (dated Sept. 13 and 17 respectively). Margaret Chipowsky's reporting of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation's report was extremely fair in its presentation of the news -- which in this case was the opinion of the foundation, not the paper. Therefore, in answer to our reader's query, I am pleased to be able to stand behind The Cavalier Daily's stories and applaud the writers' efforts to present an extremely muddy issue clearly.

Problems online

Finally, here are two brief answers to queries about The Cavalier Daily Online Edition. First, to the reader who was having trouble printing out articles, you are correct in noting that the basic print feature of most Internet browsers does an extremely poor job in uploading and printing articles directly from the Web pages. For this reason, the Online folks have a link at the bottom of each article that leads you to a printer-friendly version. This is a useful feature that always has worked for me.

Second, to those readers who have complained about the difficulty in sending me e-mail, I can only plead ignorance on why my e-mail address link sometimes doesn't work from the Web site. I will, however, ask the Online staff to look into it. Thanks for your comments this week. If you have a concern, please send it to ombudsman@cavalierdaily.com.

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