By Mike Gaynes
For a moment after opening my Sept. 1 Pilot, I thought I might have received a copy of the KKK Crusader by accident. The opinion page featured a letter exhibiting a sample of anti-Muslim hate speech that would have looked right at home on any white nationalist website.
In an email to Pilot Editor Robin Fornoff (in which I admit to questioning his sanity), I asked him: “…would you print a letter that described Catholics as ‘pirates, rapists and extortionists pouring into the U.S.’? Would you publish (one) that read ‘Mormons don’t want to assimilate into American culture’? Or ‘Jews tend to be unskilled, reliant on taxpayer funding, reluctant to assimilate into American society...’?”
I asked because those were the statements about Muslims in (the) letter.
Fornoff didn’t answer my questions directly. He responded that (the writer) is “…entitled to his opinion and to express them in a letter.”
But that wasn’t what I had asked. I had asked about the decision to publish. Evidently the Pilot’s letters policy banning personal attacks and gratuitous insults does permit religious attacks and repulsive bigotry towards a particular faith that is practiced by citizens of our community.
Yes, the First Amendment guarantees the right to believe and write what you wish, but it does not guarantee the right to disseminate it free in the community paper. Facebook, Apple and YouTube didn’t infringe on Alex Jones’ rights by banning (very, very belatedly) the poison of InfoWars from their platforms. And the Pilot would not infringe on anyone’s rights by setting a bar for common decency — or by ruling that particular letter to be shy of that bar.
Ideally, the letters page should be the venue for an exchange of views on the issues of the day. It should not be allowed to be used as a platform for attacking the neighbors as “pirates, rapists and extortionists” based entirely on their religion. Some beliefs are simply too loathsome to deserve airing.
An editor’s job is to edit, not just for spelling and grammar, but for quality of content. It’s called editorial judgement. In this case, I believe Fornoff and Publisher Kim Fowler (who tells me she also participated in the decision to publish) abdicated their responsibility. In so doing, they gave this author the undeserved opportunity to gratuitously wound every Muslim in our community. And in a way, Fornoff and Fowler have now established a precedent for publishing the next letter that similarly slurs Catholics, or Mormons, or Jews. Would they actually do so?
I was a journalist in my previous life. I loved the work but finally left the field because the wretched condition of my bank account, sleep patterns and stomach lining required it. So, I have an abiding respect for those like Fornoff who remain and stick it out for the long term. But in this instance, the people who call the shots at the Pilot have done the Fourth Estate no credit and the community no service.
There was much on that opinion page that I would have preferred to respond to — a bizarre prediction that Democrats would murder millions of Americans (by ice axe?!), a fond remembrance of the Kingston Trio, and the entertaining assertion that Gov. Kate Brown is Jerry Brown’s younger sister (she’s not, of course, but why mess up a fun fairy tale?). But when your hometown paper publishes something this repugnant, somebody ought to say something.
lives in Harbor.