Editing and Censorship Aren't the Same

By Terry, John | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 5, 1994 | Go to article overview

Editing and Censorship Aren't the Same


Terry, John, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The school paper at the University of Miami felt compelled to accept and run an ad claiming the Holocaust never happened, and because it did, a prospective donor said he's thinking about withholding a large donation he had pledged.

Good for him.

Newspaper editorialists who have criticized this would-be donor need to get a grip on their guilt and get over the notion that they're going back on a sacred oath if they don't provide a forum for crackpot ideas. Would any responsible newspaper - be it The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle or the University of Miami's student newspaper - accept and run an ad advocating, say, a nuclear attack on Minneapolis? Or an ad saying all black people should he barred from going to college? How about an ad featuring a graphic depiction of a sex act?

Of course they wouldn't. So it is a mystery why the question of censorship - obviously not relevant to the above examples - should enter into the debate over an equally loony and thoroughly objectionable ad claiming the Holocaust never happened.

Acceptance or rejection of this ad, the editors of the paper should understand, has nothing to do with censorship. It has nothing to do with freedom of speech. And it has nothing to do with freedom of the press. It has to do with exercising the sort of judgment that every newspaper exercises every day - deciding what will and won't go into their paper. It's called editing.

Newspapers are not obliged to publish everything that's submitted to them, and they are not guilty of censorship when they don't. They turn away ads all the time, along with reams of editorial material, and no one accuses them of violating free speech or curtailing the expression of ideas. No one's rights are being violated when their woe goes unpublished, and no one would argue that freedom of speech is the same thing as unrestricted access to the mass media.

Freedom of speech means people can believe, and say, what they want, including ideas that most people find repugnant. But it doesn't mean they have the right to use somebody else's privately owned news medium to say it. …

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