On the priority of editorial autonomy
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An editor of any sufficient quality and merit is one who is precise in his proofreading; able to direct his writers through the intimidating jumble of competing information and stories of daily life; and who is, preferably, able to write, himself.
But perhaps chief among the cardinal editorial virtues is grit.
An editor who fails to stand stalwart against unjustified criticism (and, worse yet, demands for censorship) is one who has not only failed the publication for which he writes, but also, in a larger respect, has degraded some of the chief ethics of Western society: the commitment to unhindered speech and the American appreciation of the liberty of expression.
In that respect, the editorial board of The Wesleyan Argus, responding Sept. 21 to cries demanding the censorship, defunding and relinquishment of editorial autonomy of their newspaper horribly capitulated to a genuine mob. That is not the correct conduct of an editor.
The conflict began when a student had rhetorically wondered in the Opinion section of the Argus whether or not Black Lives Matter actually stands for positive social change.
“If villification and denigration of the police force continues to be a significant portion of Black Lives Matter’s message, then I will not support the movement, I cannot support the movement. And many Americans feel the same,” the author wrote. “I should repeat, I do support many of the efforts by the more moderate activists.”
As a right-wing bigot myself, it’s difficult to see what could be considered so threatening as to make students of color feel “unsafe” with such a frankly moderate opinion (one actually wonders how different but civil opinions can make anyone feel unsafe) on the validity of an already ideologically questionable movement.
(I call them ideologically questionable because, after the ghastly execution of a Harris County, Texas sheriff, Black Lives Matter protestors in Minnesota chanted “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” on a highway, which is 1) ideologically questionable, and 2) incorrect, because you don’t fry pigs in a blanket; you bake them.)
BLM’s lack of culinary expertise aside, their acolytes on Wesleyan’s campus, the “Group of Concerned and Unapologetic Students of Color,” in the familiarly affected pseudo-academic, superficially mystical jargon that is SJW speak, wrote in a letter about the perils of open-dialogue and freedom of speech:
“Centering this conversation on free speech, without the context of the voices historically censored and misrepresented, is the very manifestation of systemic and structural racism that continues to silence and murder people of color.”
But wait, there’s more Orwellian language: “By focusing on the freedom of speech instead of students’ lives and ability to safely exist on this campus, you are practicing censorship and you are partaking in racism,” the students wrote.
By refusing to violate the due freedom of speech of the Argus, the school’s administration is “practicing censorship.”
And “partaking in racism,” but today that’s pretty much a given.
Dependably, the dialogue on the importance of freedom of speech on the college campus becomes merely a talking point to which one pays cheap lip service; that is, you can’t just go out and say that freedom of speech is a useless, Western construct made up by straight, white males.
That’s not popular. You’ve got to argue that, by removing freedom of speech, you’re actually protecting it.
And this is where the Argus’ editors largely agreed with their captors. They capitulated to those offended by the piece, saying that they “sincerely apologize for the distress the piece caused the student body.”
The Argus editors also promised to oblige the demand by the Ankh, a Wesleyan-based “Student of Color Publication,” that they would publish an editorial written by the Ankh on the front page of their paper.
And just to show that they were more than sufficiently sorry for any alleged editorial sin, the Argus promised to publish an issue with absolutely no content created by white people, because if one white person would create “racist” and “distressing” content, we must duly assume that they all will.
To conclude their atonement to the Group of Concerned and Unapologetic Students of Color, the editors-in-chief sacrificed the author of the original opinion piece, who of course had to be subjected to some ridicule:
“First and foremost, we apologize for our carelessness in fact-checking. The op-ed cites inaccurate statistics and twists facts,” the editors wrote. “As Wesleyan’s student newspaper, it is our responsibility to provide our readership with accurate information.”
Having read the opinion editorial in question, it seems strange that the editors would attack the author’s credibility when it came to his “statistics,” principally because he didn’t cite any.
The op-ed was entirely based on news stories — to which the website provided hyperlinks — and excerpts of discussions he had with fellow students.
The Argus also unexplainably regretted the fact that they published the controversial op-ed without duly submitting any opposition. This strikes one as a strange standard, largely because no one practices it.
Paul Krugman, who writes for The New York Times opinion section, writes largely without any oppositional pieces next to his.
Which is fine.
Not every opinion needs to be counterbalanced, and a student body which is so intellectually frail and unconfident as to be caused “frustration, anger, pain and fear” at the prospect of differing opinions has no business being a student body in the first place.
All too often, as I have written before, the American college campus presents itself not as a profitable medium of intellectual exchange, but as a mob that uses the gravity of emotion and fake oppression as a veiled means to simply crush dissent.
That mob doesn’t belong at a university. And editors that bow to that mob don’t belong in the field of journalism.