The writing of last week’s editorial by Steven Blank took great courage.
It was titled “Publishing letter wrong” and contained an apology for publishing Mr. O’Kelly’s anti-Semitic rant.
Admitting that one has made an error and then apologizing for it in print is something the president of the United States should try once in a while.
So, kudos to Mr. Blank.
Reading on, one uncovers the logic which led to Blank’s conclusion.
He talks about the “pain” that Mr. O’Kelly’s letter caused to some of the Jewish readers of Blank Slate publications. He cites “the pain suffered by Jews across the centuries” and references “the horrors of the Holocaust.”
If “pain” or hurt feelings become the criterion by which editors determine whether or not to publish a letter, we are on a slippery slope.
Statements which cause pain to some, are innocuous to others.
I feel pain when I read right-wing propaganda, but that should not enter into Mr. Blank’s calculus.
How then to arrive at editorial decisions? Let me suggest a different criterion, namely, truth.
If Mr. O”Kelly refers to the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as a legitimate source, he should not be published.
Any letter containing palpable falsehoods must go into the circular file.
Is it then the obligation of every editor to fact check letters? Inconvenient as this may be, the answer is “yes.”
This dilemma is reminiscent of the controversy which occurred in 1978 .
It pitted the town of Skokie, Ill., against the American Civil Liberties Union.
The American Nazi Party wanted to hold a march through Skokie among whose inhabitants were a large number of holocaust survivors.
Clearly, the pain felt by these folks would be considerable, but in order to be true to its principals, the ACLU had to take the case.
The upshot was many persons (including some of my friends) gave up their ACLU membership while the Nazi’s agreed to stage their rally in downtown Chicago.
While I empathized with the anguish felt by Skokie’s residents the idea of free and unfettered speech superseded these emotions.
At the end of his piece, Blank writes “Now more than ever, this nation and this community is in need of a vibrant press.”
This places the issue in a larger context.
Three cheers for Steven Blank who has stirred the pot and gotten all of us to re-examine our beliefs and assumptions.
Dr. Hal Sobel