Austin Weekly News, two weeks ago, published a guest editorial submission by Roman Morrow, an Austin community member.
His opinion piece referred to West Side politicians as “pimps.” Aldermen Ed Smith (28th) and Isaac Carothers (29th) were mentioned by name. Mr. Morrow is among the many residents in Austin who supported building a high school at the old Brach Candy site, 401 N. Cicero Ave., which, instead, was approved this summer by the Chicago City Council to be converted into a distribution center by a suburban-based developer, who purchased the property earlier this year. Ald. Smith, whose ward is home to the Brach site, supported the purchase and conversion plan. He also supports building a high school at another location.
Mr. Morrow wrote an earlier column where he criticized Smith for his stance, but without the pimp reference. He also criticized our regular weekly columnist Arlene Jones for her support of a casino and entertainment complex at the site. She responded the following week, taking him to task for his Brach stance and statements made specifically about her.
Ald. Smith, meanwhile, called our newspaper last week, upset that we published Mr. Morrow’s recent viewpoint. A couple of letters and columns in support for Ald. Smith, and chastising us, were also sent to our paper. As with Mr. Morrow’s submission, those, too, will be published.
One of the letters said we should not have printed that “article.” I know exactly what the writer was implying. (FYI: columns, editorials, and letters to the editor are not “articles.”)
What Mr. Morrow wrote was not a “news” story or article. It was an opinion piece from a community member, like the many others we publish from local readers without prejudice or censorship. Mr. Morrow is not a regular columnist. He does not write for the paper, nor is he paid by us, nor is his opinion necessarily an opinion that any of us share. Still, guest editorials and letters, as well as regular columnists, are free to express their opinions. Some exceptions to this rule: vulgarity, libel or promoting crime or violence against someone.
A very passionate Smith defender wrote that we shouldn’t print any “article” (meaning opinion piece) without making sure it is factual. A lot of people giving their opinions-written or verbalized-don’t always have all their “facts” straight and oftentimes don’t have any facts whatsoever. The people who are interviewed each week for Streetbeat, for instance, don’t always, or even usually, offer “facts” with their opinion. That’s not a criticism, nor should they be criticized for not doing so. We simply ask them what they think.
I realize some readers will argue that calling a politician a “pimp” is on a whole other level. Well, consider this: Some black women like to call all men-really just black men-dogs. Not some of us. Not one of us. Not even the ones they’ve only dealt with, but all black men. Now, what if a sister wrote a letter or opinion piece to our paper about the brothers, calling us all “no-good dogs” for this, that or whatever? I’d publish it, even though I disagree with the generalization because I know generalizations never apply across the board-and it’s also not really based on fact. But they’re entitled to their opinion.
Calling politicians pimps, crooks, shysters or other such things are generalizations, though some folk do think politicians are all those things and worse. Doesn’t make it true for any single politician, some, or most of them. But folks are entitled to their opinion.
Austin Weekly News does have a responsibility for what we publish in our news stories. News writers and reporters have to strive for truth and accuracy always. But news stories and opinion columns are not one and the same-even though many readers confuse them. Someone expressing an opinion in a column isn’t bound to offer one single fact to support that opinion, and they aren’t required to be polite in stating their views either-though you may consider their opinion less convincing as a result.
Here’s my personal and professional take on effective opinion writing: An intelligent argument will almost always defeat a stupid one. Censorship accomplishes nothing. In some of my columns, I’ve taken on someone’s views that I not only disagreed with, but was also able to dispute by simply making an opposing, more informed and intelligent argument.
I loved the back-and-forth between Arlene Jones and Mr. Morrow. Arlene didn’t threaten to sue or quit writing for us because we published what he wrote earlier concerning her, some of which she found very derogatory. She used the same forum, the same medium, and persuasively made her case against his views.
Our readers can take our newspaper to task for what we publish. But if you don’t like what someone wrote in a letter or column submitted to us, take the opportunity to respond to that person-make your best argument. Don’t just call for censorship.