The free press was guaranteed special constitutional protections by America’s founders because they believed journalists could and should be watchdogs on government, offering another in a layer of checks and balances on federal power.
That’s what made a Pennsylvania newspaper’s gleeful, knee-jerk public announcement to restrict the publication of opinions opposed to same-sex marriage, within hours of last week’s Supreme Court decision mandating the unions in all 50 states, so shocking.
The editorial page editor of the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, known as PennLive online, tweeted right after the ruling that the paper would “no longer accept” or publish opinion pieces and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage.
John Micek then explained: “This is not hard: We would not print racist, sexist or anti-Semitc (sic) letters. To that, we add homophobic ones. Pretty simple.”
There you have it. Nine high priests in black robes spoke, and for Micek, that was enough to squelch any further discussion on the subject.
Truly amazing. This is the not the journalism profession I entered just under 40 years ago. Then, like throughout most of American history, government decisions, edicts and actions did not dictate the parameters of acceptable speech.
Just to be clear, the editorial that declared the debate on same-sex marriage over explained that Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the majority decision, had “nailed it.” In other words, there was nothing more to say on the subject.
The reaction to this stunning betrayal of the journalistic code to offer a free-and-open forum on important public policy debates and fairness and balance in its coverage came as fast and as furiously as Micek’s capitulation to political correctness.
The public furor prompted another statement from the editorial board: “A newspaper editorial published online was updated Friday afternoon to clarify the board’s op-ed policy. In the editorial, which cheered the decision and said majority opinion author Justice Anthony Kennedy ‘nailed it,’ the board issued the following statement: ‘As a result of Friday’s ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will very strictly limit op-eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage. These unions are now the law of the land. And we will not publish such letters and op-eds any more than we would publish those that are racist, sexist or anti-Semitic. We will, however, for a limited time, accept letters and op-eds on the high court’s decision and its legal merits.'”
See what I mean? The paper very clearly accepted the Supreme Court ruling as word from on high. The follow-up statement went further in some respects, saying only for a limited time would the paper even consider publishing any criticism of the legal decision.
A day later, a humiliated Micek had to apologize for the paper’s decision, admitting “there are people of good conscience and of goodwill who will disagree with Friday’s court ruling. They are, and always will be, welcome in these pages, along with all others of goodwill, who seek to have an intelligent and reasoned debate on the issues of the day. These pages, I remind myself finally, belong to the people of Central Pennsylvania. I’m a conduit, I recognize, for them to share their views and to have the arguments that make us better as a people. And all views are – and always will be – welcome.”
Micek then claimed his edict was misunderstood from the start – suggesting he only meant to restrict opinions employing offensive slurs and demeaning insults.
Of course we all know better.
Micek and the misnamed Patriot-News got caught betraying their own narrow-minded bigotry and ham-fisted tendencies toward official, party-line propaganda. They were caught admitting as clearly as any news organization has ever that they were only interested in opinions that agreed with theirs.
The real patriots of the War of Independence, however, risked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to establish, for the first time in history anywhere, the free press in America – not to mention constitutionally limited government. How easy it was to forget those sacrifices and those lofty ideals to trample free expression and allow federal judges to determine what free people can talk about openly and honestly.
It’s an illustration of how the Fourth Estate has lost any sense of its historic and sacred mission in preserving and safeguarding liberty.
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