For most of my career, newspapers have been held to the highest of standards by readers. Our depth, perspective and unwavering pursuit of truth are unrivaled, and every editorial decision we make is cloaked in a devotion to ethical, honest reporting.
That is why I will fervently stand up to the handful of readers who have publicly derided The Leader this week, questioning more than 65 years of service to our community through intellectually dishonest complaints.
Last week, our newspaper accepted and inserted a paid advertisement purchased by an organization called Newsmax. The 12-page, glossy insert promoted a book by David Horowitz, which makes the case for re-electing President Trump. How dare they?
I have not read the book, nor will a majority of our readers, I presume – not because the book is about Trump, but because the end of election season can’t come soon enough. It’s not like the book was some poorly written diatribe passed around underground meetings. “Blitz” did spend six weeks on the New York Times best-seller list for hardcover nonfiction.
You’d have thought we published salacious pictures of Mother Teresa.
“What an abomination (regardless of political bias) for The Leader to include propaganda in its newspaper…,” wrote one reader. “Shame, shame, shame.”
Another reader suggested he’s going to tattle on us to local businesses. “Do your local advertisers want to be connected with propagation of political disinformation and conspiracy theories? I will ask them…”
“Are you people that desperate for ad money, or is this a political statement or endorsement?” asked another reader.
By the way, you can read all of these letters in their entirety because our newspaper has been, and always will be, a place where ideas and information are exchanged. And that seems a wonderful place to start.
I do believe 99 percent of you understand that our newspaper, and most others, are designed to be marketplaces for information, ideas and, to a lesser extent, commerce. We were founded on the tenet that no matter what the issue, our journalists would seek to offer every possible perspective. At that point, our readers were left to make their own decisions about those issues. Our opinion pages have been eclectic compilations of ideas. And for centuries, we have served as one of the most effective platforms for businesses of all sizes to market their products and services to an educated consumer.
Today, according to critics, our readers have suddenly become stupid. The centuries of consistency from printed publications must now be guided by an arrogant belief that editorial filters should include a repression of challenging ideas.
No longer are you able to read information and make your own decisions. No longer are you capable of processing information as an intellectual being. No longer can you decipher between news and paid advertising. The fog of political war is so blinding that non-partisan publications like ours must be canceled, tossed aside, because our readers are too dumb to draw their own conclusions.
This is utter lunacy, yet the men and women who took the time to shame us through letters to the editor and social media posts over the past week actually believe our readers are incapable of processing information and making decisions for themselves. And to justify the outrage, they don’t point the finger at you, but rather at us for not selectively choosing which ideas we allow you to read.
Based on this line of thinking, Barnes & Noble has 627 stores across the United States, and they also happen to sell the Horowitz book. Shame, shame, shame. This national chain is making a profit from what the book’s critics say is propagation of political disinformation and conspiracy theories.
Amazon, that cretin of a publisher, sells copies of the Horowitz book (No. 1 in the Political Leadership category), and we all know what that means. Amazon makes money on those sales, which must also mean they’re either incredibly desperate for money, or they’re making a political statement or endorsement.
Am I doing this right?
Look, I don’t care which side of the political aisle you reside – never have and never will. I do care if our readers accuse us of spreading propaganda, simply because we allow an advertiser to pay for an insert. Local newspapers are on the cusp of complete closure. More than 2,000 have shut their doors across this country in the past decade, and the wake of this pandemic will result in hundreds more communities without an independent source of information. But no matter if The Leader made a billion dollars a year in profits, or lost tens of thousands every year, we would never, ever refuse an advertisement or a story because some readers wouldn’t agree with the content.
Our role in vetting advertising is in legality. If you’re selling drugs or trafficking humans, we’re not running your ads. In fact, we’re calling the cops.
Tomorrow, you’re going to walk into a grocery store or a restaurant, and you’re going to see someone wearing a Biden hat or a MAGA shirt. If you’re a Trump supporter, are you going to boycott the restaurant for allowing a Biden hat on property? Are the patrons of that restaurant so fragile that they can’t handle the sight of an opposing idea?
If you’re a Biden supporter, are you going to publicly cancel a grocery store because they allowed a shopper with a MAGA shirt on property?
Newspapers deserve and expect our readers to hold us to the highest ethical standards when it comes to the dissemination of information. We want our readers to trust the perspective we offer.
In return, we expect our readers to consume our information independently and deliberately. We expect you to trust the source and verify our content. We put our names on our stories for a reason, and we seek accountability if we seek nothing at all.
Our readers are smart people, and The Leader has served them well for decades. We will not bow to the idea that you are incapable of forming your own opinion, and we will never, not ever, select which ideas we believe are best for you.