The Corner

Reconciling My Principles

From a reader:

Jonah,

I’d like to see you flesh out the principles that reconcile your positions

on the two Daily Collegian items. Are you saying they should have run the

political ad, but not the Tillman op-ed? Or that they should have run both,

or neither? Do 1st Amendment principles argue for printing the political ad,

even though no government censorship is involved, but running a

controversial op-ed is is solely up to editorial judgment?

Curious minds want to know…

Sure. I thought the Tillman op-ed was sophomoric and not worth publishing. The author could have easily made the same substantive points without saying this guy deserved to die in Afghanistan. To frame the argument the was he(?) did was gratuitous and offensive.

Now, the editors didn’t think so. Or, they may have thought so but they didn’t think the Tillman piece crossed the line. Now that they’re being criticized, they’re invoking the first amendment and the “principle” that they are not obligated to please their readers. This strikes me as stupid and cowardly for several reasons. The first amendment does not absolve editors of their professional obligations to, well, edit. They had to have seen some merit in the piece to begin with or they would not have run it. Now their afraid to admit that they saw merit in it. I would have a lot more respect for them if they defended their decision on those merits without crying “the first amendment made me do it!”

As for the idea that they owe it to their mission to run controversial pieces, that’s fine if that’s what they think. But that directly contradicts their refusal to run the Horowitz ad which presumably would have been just as controversial in many quarters on campus. The same hold with their first amendment argument since the first amendment offers the same protections of political ads as it does of political editorials (or at least it used to before campaign finance “reform”). Moreover, the editors would have had even less responsibility to determine whether the ad had merit than they do for editorials. Virtually all publications run ads for groups they disagree with. And yet, even though both of their defenses of the Tillman piece would logically require them to have the guts to run the Horowitz ad, they chickened out when the issue was offending the left and they boldly went ahead when it came to offending “the right” (I use quotation marks because I am sure countless non-conservatives were equally offended by the piece).

In short, I think the editors are free to run or not run pretty much whatever they want. All I am saying is that they should stand by their unpopular decisions without turning into a sprinkler system of B.S. about the first amendment and they should apply the same standards of excellence or controversialism (or in this case mediocrity) consistently if they are going to invoke those principles in their defense.

Also, if they’re so into free speech, a lot of readers are wondering, why have they blocked all attempt to comment on the editorial in their reader forum?

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