About That Letter

April 23, 2015

And suddenly it’s April. Where’d the time go? How is Vodka doing? And who am I talking to?

Vodka is doing just fine, and on August 8, I will be moderating a panel, History of the Cocktail: The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, at the National Archives. I’ll provide updates as the date approaches.

But in more recent news, over at weeklystandard.com, I posted a letter written by an 8-year-old boy named Peter. He addressed the letter to First Lady Michelle Obama but never sent it. His parents found the letter in his room. It’s precocious to say the least. He’s upset about the ketchup-rationing in public schools but then goes on a foreign policy rant (Peter is rather interventionist, calling for boots on the ground in the Middle East, bombing Syria, and U.N. peacekeepers in Ukraine).

The letter seems to have gone viral (a term I loathe). It’s been reprinted numerous times both here and abroad. And I just did The Jonathon Brandmeier Show on Westwood One. But what has surprised me are the number of people who doubt Peter wrote the letter. Or to be more precise, these skeptics believe his parents told him what to write. Meaning the whole thing was just a publicity stunt and, as one commenter put it, “I am either näive or complicit.” But I’ll say neither.

So just to clarify: Although other media outlets are reporting that the letter was submitted directly to The Weekly Standard, in reality, it was sent to me on a personal basis. I have been friends with Peter’s father for many years. He sent along the letter to me and two other buddies, saying, “I thought you might get a kick out of this.” I wouldn’t have minded if he suggested I post it online, but he didn’t. That was my idea, and Peter’s parents only reluctantly agreed to on the condition we disclose just the boy’s first name and absolutely nothing else. For those who think the parents want the publicity, you won’t be seeing them put Peter on Good Morning America. They aren’t redirecting everyone to their YouTube channel like those “Good Looking Parents Sing Frozen” (20 million views and counting!).

Others simply refuse to believe an 8-year-old knows anything about current events, which says more about the state of education than about Peter and his family. When I was seven, I already knew about the Iranian hostage crisis. I made fun of a fourth-grade girl whose parents voted for independent candidate John B. Anderson. It might be unusual, but it’s not impossible. My son found out about 9/11 when he was 6, while reading Fireboat: The Adventures of the John J. Harvey with his mother.

As for Peter’s composition skills, I’ve come across readers who either believe no 8-year-old could write so neatly or that no 8-year-old could write so sloppily. My son’s writing skills (at age 7) are acceptable, but I know a boy his age who attends a private school and whose writing skills are astounding (he’s even edited his father’s work!). If Mozart was able to compose music at age 5, surely an 8-year-old boy can take six months to write this letter.

But there’s no definitive proof Peter was or wasn’t coached. I don’t have video of Peter composing the letter without assistance. But knowing the family—I met Peter two years ago, and he was a quiet, quirky, and adorable kid in love with his books—I see no reason to doubt this was entirely the boy’s handiwork.

Was he simply regurgitating what his parents might have been discussing at the dinner table? Sure. I’m always surprised by what children remember. It turns out they hear everything—mine simply choose to ignore my demands they take their shoes off and wash their hands. But they do hear everything.

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