Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Press Should Stop Apologizing

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Press Should Stop Apologizing

Article excerpt

The press should stop apologizing

The Philadelphia Inquirer made a mistake. The newspaper published an editorial on Dec. 12 that was assailed as racist because it linked a new contraceptive device with efforts to reverse poverty. Then on Dec. 23, it apologized for the earlier editorial (E&P, Jan. 12).

The apology was a mistake.

A free press means never having to say you are sorry - that you should never have to apologize submissively for any opinion on a public issue. The Inquirer's editors felt they had to apologize to calm a sea of dissent over the expression of an opinion that was not perhaps culturally sensitive or politically fashionable.

Are only culturally sensitive views permissible on our editorial pages now? We do not have a First Amendment so that we can say and write what is politically fashionable. We have a First Amendment so that we can express contradictory opinions, so the free exchange of ideas is not just encouraged but ensured.

The Inquirer admitted it was wrong after it was charged with racism.

"I think maybe the best thing to say about it now is it is an apology and it's a change of position," said the Inquirer's editor, Maxwell E.P. King

Was it a change of position or acquiescence? In either case, the reason was not good enough. Will they now apologize whenever they have second thoughts about an issue or only after they are called racist or whenever an editorial elicits an angry response of some kind? Aren't editorials supposed to provoke discussion? Doesn't a certain amount of criticism come with the territory?

Was it a mistake to write an editorial on the rising number of black children living in poverty? It is a legitimate social issue. It would be irresponsible to ignore it.

Was it wrong to say, as the Dec. 12 editorial did, "The main reason more black children are living in poverty is that the people having the most children are the ones least capable of supporting them"?

Was it wrong to suggest that better prenatal care and better schools are not a panacea?

Was it wrong to say, "Why not make a major effort to reduce the number of children, of any race, born into such circumstances?"

Was it wrong, as the editorial did, to offer, by choice, to women living in poverty, Norplant, a contraceptive that can keep a woman from getting pregnant for five years?

Maybe it was wrong, but right and wrong are irrelevant here. In a democracy, one should be just as free to be wrong as he is to be right. What is the point of having free speech when you are allowed only to be right? If an opinion is wrong, then the answer is more opinions, not a white flag and an apology.

Three hundred-fifty years ago, John Milton wrote. "Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter."

What was gained by apology? …

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