NOTICE: Not all press is good press
In 2017, The Atlantic reporter Noah Berlatsky wrote an article about the rise of the alt-right after the Trump presidency titled “The Case Against Free Speech for Fascists.” This article contained a quote that resonated with me about why opinions in favor of discrimination and prejudice carry a different weight than just a rude expression of free speech.
He says: “Hate and bigoted speech, if left unchecked, leaves marginalized people feeling vulnerable and unsafe – for good reason. If you let people spit bile, the people they spit bile on will leave. You will end up with a safe space for hate speech in which the only speech offered is hate.
The editorial “Why we published ‘We have gone too far’” has been published to explain the choice to share the controversial article by Fr. Benedict. The editorial said that being an ally of the LGBTQ community and supporting the free speech rights of those who support LGBTQ exclusion are not antithetical beliefs to uphold. The article goes on to say, “In fact, the open exchange of diverse perspectives is what ends up cultivating a safe space for marginalized communities.”
I don’t like the co-option of social justice language here to imply that one has an obligation to platform prejudice like the Br. Benedict’s article, and that it might be beneficial for those targeted by prejudice. I ask the question: where exactly is the safe space that is cultivated through the inclusion of rhetoric that denounces these very marginalized communities? In turn, if people who espouse intolerant beliefs are allowed to occupy such significant real estate, what does that suggest about the nature of safe space?
I agree that one can feel genuinely passionate about social justice causes and also embrace free speech centrism as the editorial suggested. However, I also believe that the compromise that occurs when the interests of these two belief systems collide is neither radical nor responsible.
The editorial quotes a quote from a 2019 Beacon article on media literacy, which reads: “Many people, especially in an age of organized social media feeds, expect to read, watch and listen only to information that supports their worldview. They don’t even want to hear from the other side. But for a news organization to fail to report all aspects of an event or situation, or fail to report that a public event has occurred, would be misleading and inconsistent with the mission of journalism.
As for the first half of the quote, I think using that particular tone to justify publishing “We’ve gone too far” is an unfair judgment on the part of those who cared deeply about the content of the article. A negative critical response from the public does not equate to an inability to hear the other side, so to speak.
In this circumstance, the context also differs from not wanting to witness a harmless hot plug. Having one’s identity respected in the institution where one works and where one studies is a matter of social justice and human rights. It’s so important that campaigners have been fighting for it for years, and it’s been part of our legislation ever since.
The benefits of such inclusion are greatly restorative and positive for marginalized communities. The people who oppose it come from a place of intolerance. The extension of their beliefs comes at the expense of increasing inequalities. Morally, these points of view are not equal. Is the bad side of the story really a “side” worth engaging?
I agree with the second half of this quote and how it describes the mission of journalism. Of course, it is crucial that the news presents a complete recollection of the world around us in order to enhance our understanding for all. Yet, in the context of “We have gone too far”, can we honestly say that this goal has been achieved? The op-ed piece ‘We’ve gone too far’ in response to, titled ‘We’ve gone far, but not far enough’, is a meticulous and profound account of how structural inequality in UP has harmed LGBTQ students.
It documents the reality of these issues from a variety of perspectives, both from concerned students and experts on the subject of LGBTQ livelihoods. There is even a representation of the opposition in this article, through quotes from Fr. Paul Scalia and the direction of the University. This piece is an exemplary representation of the definition of journalism taken from the 2019 Beacon article. Entirely within the framework of “We have gone far, but not far enough”, the aforementioned standards of “reporting that a public event has product” and “present all aspects of an event or situation” have been met.
Meanwhile, “We’ve Gone Too Far” provided almost no additional context, information, or insight to the issues described in the original article. He only briefly responded to concerns that the chapel here does not accommodate same-sex couples. The rest of the article was used to argue for the alienation of LGBTQ people from identifying with Catholicism, using typical tropes of homophobic biblical interpretation.
It is an extremely common understanding in the general culture that the Catholic Church is not particularly welcoming to LGBTQ people. Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, this dynamic becomes apparent; it doesn’t matter if you’re LGBTQ, and it doesn’t matter if you grew up in the church, there are suggestions on that. Intolerance and the Church are so often confused that there are several courses at the University of Portland with a curriculum specifically dedicated to dispelling this assumption.
Those who have faced homophobic and/or transphobic hostility would have found Fr. Benedict is really very familiar. On the other hand, there is the revelation that Fr. Benedict graduated four years ago. I’m sure it’s also safe to assume that he hasn’t been on the other end of the discriminatory policy and microaggressions towards LGBTQ students as described in the original article.
He doesn’t have an intimate understanding of current student life or the specific challenges of being an LGBTQ student at an institution that offers inconsistent support at best. If depth of discussion is what is sought, then Fr. The narrow-minded perspective of Benedict XVI is neither adequate nor relevant to achieve this. “We’ve gone too far” doesn’t learn anything new or valuable from reiterating this nefarious ideology on a broad platform.
I call out free speech centrism that comes at the expense of marginalized communities with a quote from this 2019 Beacon article that states, “It is important that a commitment to presenting all sides does not mean a false equivalence “on both sides” à la Donald Trump. . Many journalists are also aware that what and who they even choose to cover matters, and can provide a platform for nefarious forces if not done correctly. Bilateralism can be a tempting medium for the polarization and uncomfortable accusations of patronage that plague modern political discussion.
In reality, all that is accomplished by treating “both sides” of social justice issues as equals is to reinforce existing structural inequality. Those who already have privileges in a heteronormative, patriarchal and Eurocentric society have yet another space to be oppressive. Marginalized communities have to fight much harder in response.
It is not necessary to freely expose intolerance for the public to “learn how to navigate controversial opinions” or prepare to enter “the world of adults”, as the editorial posits. Those of us who live as gender, sexual or racial and ethnic minorities are constantly confronted with prejudice and its implications. We already know how to navigate bigotry because it is essential to our survival. To even be able to consider these issues as a new debate is a demonstration of a privilege that marginalized people do not know.
Bias is inherent in our psychology. A publication does not have to attempt to eradicate all traces of bias to be reliable or trustworthy. This is another aspect of a fair political discussion that I think bilateralism gets wrong. Some of the world’s most respected news agencies would be described as having a slight left-wing leaning, for example.
If it’s written by humans, who bring to the table a rich culture of experience and knowledge that’s unique to their own lives, then it’s not impartial. And it doesn’t matter. Being aware of where this bias might lead us is the important part.
With such a large platform for disseminating ideas (which no doubt reflect the University as a whole, for better or for worse), critically considering the inclusion of potentially harmful works is not the way to go. censorship. I would say it is a curative act of discernment.
Jordan Ducree is a junior at UP. She can be reached at [email protected].
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