Offensive Ads and the First Amendment

By Giobbe, Dorothy | Editor & Publisher, November 20, 1993 | Go to article overview

Offensive Ads and the First Amendment


Giobbe, Dorothy, Editor & Publisher


Louisiana newspaper owners takes some heat for running an ad from the Ku Klux Klan, donates revenue to NAACP and anti-Klan group

STEVEN MAY, OWNER of the Times of Acadiana, Lafayette, La., accepted a large ad from the Bayou Knights of the Ku Klux Klan last month because of his paper's firm, long-standing commitment to freedom of the press.

The move was a striking example of the often difficult role that publishers must pay when confronted with advertising that might be deemed offensive.

At the Times, a 32,500-circulation weekly with a history of running controversial advertising, the situation was particularly ironic.

The paper is a member of the Association of Alternative Newspapers and has received a National Newspaper Association award for its coverage of former Klan leader David Duke's campaign for governor, which May said embodied the Klan's latest strategy of disguising its agenda in carefully chosen, toned-down language.

"Clearly, the Klan had learned a lot from the Duke experience about how to make contact with people without setting off all those little buzzwords and phrases that upset folks," he said.

The content and language in the ad was sanitized thoroughly and "contained the type of information that you hear on talk radio every day," May said.

Still, the grappled with whether to run it.

"What do you do when you're a publisher committed to the idea of freedom of speech and freedom of the press?" he asked. "Should we have rejected the ad merely because it was from the Klan as opposed to rejecting it because of its contents? That was the dilemma for us."

Eventually, "we decided that we would not reject the advertising simply because of who it was from. We felt that the message was a more important issue than who was sending it, and that's why we decided to print it."

In a creative twist, May offered to donate half of ['e $900 that the paper received for the ad to the scholarship fund of the Acadiana Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the other half of Klanwatch, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center that tracks white-supermacits groups.

"We weren't sure how well the idea would go over with the NAACP, but they thought about it for at least . . . 30 seconds before saying yes, and so did Klanwatch, May said.

The ad was published along with an editorial signed by May and an explanation of how the money from the ad was distributed. …

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