Specious arguments of journalistic integrity

Patrick Butler
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It disturbs me to see publications hide behind misplaced notions of journalistic integrity, as the Newfoundland Herald did last week.

As has been widely circulated, in its Aug. 3-9 edition, the Herald published “The Coming Christian Revolt” by American blogger Matt Barber, an extreme ring-wing letter to the editor that put gay marriage and abortion rights in its crosshairs.

Last week, following mounting criticism and a pending (but since dropped) human rights complaint by Western Pride NL, the magazine published an apology to its readers.

“Many beautiful, wise, wonderful and caring people were hurt and angered by Barber’s letter, and the fact that it was published in the Herald. And for that, I’m truly sorry,” Herald managing editor Pam Pardy-Ghent said in the letter.

But while Pardy-Ghent apologized to those who were hurt by the letter, she expressed no regret. There was no remorse — all was in the name of good journalism.

“If we refuse to publish letters that may be controversial, or letters that do not line up with our own beliefs, then I believe there’s a problem,” Pardy-Ghent said.

“Opinions, no matter how unpopular or controversial, can be freely expressed in this country whether they are from a minority, or a majority.”

True. But that needn’t make media outlets like the Herald into channels for any fanatic’s views.

Avoiding censorship doesn’t mean publishing whatever letter winds up in the inbox at the end of the week.

 Nor does it provide newspapers and magazines with a blank cheque for broadcasting views that denigrate their readership.

There is never, as the Herald implies, a duty to publish letters that disparage people because of their sexual orientation or that promote antiquated views about certain parts of society.

Publishing an opinion piece that describes gay marriage as “evil” is not a reminder of the journalistic integrity publications strive to achieve.

Rather, it’s a tiresome reminder of the specious arguments magazines and newspapers use to shield themselves when they publish content they know to be incendiary.

Good journalism should deal in facts. And the fact is, gay marriage isn’t evil.

People may not agree with it, it may make some people angry, but that doesn’t make it evil. Evil is for cartoon villains, not entire cross- sections of the law-abiding public.

And, in keeping with the accuracy theme, wouldn’t not publishing a piece that says gay marriage is evil seem more in line with good, fact-based journalism, than publishing it in the first place?

The Herald’s approach puts freedom of speech first and facts second. It’s a backwards mentality which will forever stir up the same sort of controversy created by the past two weeks’ unfortunate events.

Do I believe in a press that censors free speech? Of course not.

But I do believe in a responsible media that recognizes unfit content for what it is. I do believe in media organizations that realize the power they have and the value of their voice — and that don’t tarnish it with letters they know will alienate their readers.

Publications indirectly censor news every day by deciding what they want to cover. By choosing to publish “The Coming Christian Revolt” over another letter to the editor (I assume there was another), the Herald effectively silenced someone else.

I see no difference between that everyday editorial decision and the journalistic dilemma purportedly faced by the Herald.

And I have a hard time seeing the harm in letting the rant it published settle at the bottom of a dustbin.

“Publish or perish,” my arse.

Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is studying journalism at Carleton University. He can be reached by email at patrickbutler5@yahoo.ca.

Organizations: The Herald, Carleton University

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Recent comments

  • ???
    August 18, 2014 - 17:46

    You purport to believe in free speech, yet you say that media should sensor content and not print anything that isn't in agreement with the homosexual movement or alienates them. It wasn't so many years ago that the homosexuals decried media censorship that prevented them from having an open forum or "voice" in publications. Now they - and you - want to turn the tables. Do you really fail to see the lack of logical reasoning in your argument? If so, good luck with your career in journalism. Maybe your liberal professors will like your article. However, it alienates me, a reader, so, by your own rationale, it should not be printed in The Telegram.

  • Critical thoughts on the role of media in this case
    August 18, 2014 - 08:26

    Well, a human rights complaint under C-46, Section 19, which is 'propaganda and the incitement of hate towards an identifiable group' in this case of the mainstream media playing both sides was just bogus and the real pride of the gay community suffers the fallout. Abstract PRIDE is insecure and in need of media attention in a drive for political acceptance. The Churches are insecure to the point of embezzlement. Non-political gays and christians are embarrassed by this organized stupidity in our newspaper.  Mainstream media are playing opin-ping-pong as a domestic foreign war-time distraction garnering a week of native Herald advertisement and the opportunity for Butler to say arse like he means it, and for Jackson to offer a us a view to more USA hate blogs. There is no criminal code section reference on toying with reader's emotions by appropriation of fast-feed big bigot-fattening click-bait from the States. No war crimes measure on deliberately manufacturing an issue-dichotomy so column writers can, as one dissenting letter writer puts it, brand people with the hot press either/or iron. Are we to think that these columns are in better taste than the Island Girl or Guy just because it is black & white and read all over as valid prose? I liked the old standard magazine 'bait' better - true tasteful human form and not Mr. butler's arse raised toward the Herald editors. Appearing in a pair of Speedos would be more tasteful. The media seems in bully-mode promoting churchy vs gay sic'em into it dichotomy and it is pretty unexciting and quite nasty-filthy-dirty when compared to the beauty of the human body – male or female or otherwise. The Herald knew what it was doing and the apology was probably made up before the charges were filed. I can't accept that the entire staff, right down to the printers, are able to vet this to market without a gutpang of 'is this gonna cause a lot of deserved pushback and draw an apology?" This 'mistake' is made (my conjecture) to draw otherwise reasonable self-indentifying respectful gay and christian people out into a dirty stupid public debate created as social dislocation of our media space and focus is showered on the various competing and polarized talking heads who only speak for abstract acronyms and to abstractions, who would never speak against the media who let them the space to ping pong the metaphysical rights blame-game back and forth at our expense, with little enlightenment generated and an abundance of friction-loss heat. Free speech or mere entropy? The Tely fostered this issue all week and last publishing cherry-picked (again, conjecture) editor-letters that would induce commentary click-bait after the Herald's 'mistake' and now, the CBC has run on ahead with the big slobby apology story as well. Someone up there at the Herald, next to the dump, who is not a student, had to copy/paste an American Idiot-bigot's blog to achieve these 'evil' letters exchanges and criminal hate charges/non-charges that has yet to be properly explained by a three-ring media/PRIDE clown-show that will be all about 'government' transparency next week when this is pushed down the priority list. Instead of the RCMP or local cops who are (as?) busy (as Crappy Tire fashion police, checking window tint and tire studs) community heroes, the regulator of media in Canada needs to investigate the whole process of all this opinion shaping and attitude formation based on an obscure militant christian blogpost making it into the Sterling Newfoundland Herald in the first place. What happened afterwards, the circus, is elementary, predictable and, in my opinion, likely 'stage managed' by corporate media personalities. Am I allowed this opinion and reaching conjecture or is this asking too much? No organization should be above criticism and the individuals involved need to be taught a few lessons on how media works in a democracy.

    • Romanus of Caesarea
      August 18, 2014 - 23:08

      I agree with this much of your rambling conjecture::: "regulator of media in Canada needs to investigate the whole process of all this opinion shaping and attitude formation based on an obscure militant christian blogpost making it into the Sterling Newfoundland Herald"::: and if the media outlets can't speak to acusations of at least fostering lackluster wheedling writing as an avenue to social dislocation and 'hate' ask Miller Ayre for his opinion @::: http://atlanticpresscouncil.wordpress.com/::: Maybe we don't need outside help with this. Better to ignore the whole thing I'd say and concentrate on your own writing and not the penny-ante stuff here that you call click-bait. Why bite at all? Where in the world is the magic media that doesn't attempt to manipulate those not really paying attention or play their definition of minorities against each other for the pleasure and affirmation of the base population? This is normal. You won't change any columnist's mind and surely not Carausius'!

  • J
    August 18, 2014 - 07:27

    Well then. No one should have any issue with either Polygyny or Polyandry.

    • Shocking
      August 18, 2014 - 13:10

      Hey J, why are you making it about numbers? Has no more to do with numbers than heterosexual couplings - couplings referring to TWO people. Nice try.

  • Carausius
    August 18, 2014 - 06:18

    Herald was right to publish the letter. We must protect freedom of expression from special interest groups.

    • Jeff
      August 18, 2014 - 07:33

      Define "special interest groups."

    • Carausius
      August 18, 2014 - 11:10

      Thought it obvious old feller. Any group that is displeased to hear a contrary opinion and in their righteous wrath demand censorship. Capish?

    • Shocking
      August 18, 2014 - 13:07

      Carausius, that is ignorant. I guess there are lots of heterosexual "special interest groups", then? And if anything offensive and blasting them as "evil" was published, that would be acceptable?? Not on.

    • Jeff
      August 18, 2014 - 13:52

      Io non capisco. And apparently you don't either..... You have absolutely no idea what a special interest group is; just that it's something you don't like... but you dont' know what they are. *smirk*