Posted by Selchia Cain
It is an editor’s job to ensure that nothing impedes the writer’s message to the audience, and as an editor to maintain their sense of loyalty to the readers of their publication.
Op-eds are great examples of those polemic pieces. It is in this arena of journalism where editors make the difficult decisions to publish or not to publish. Hoping to strike a balance between publishing a writer’s work while keeping the best interest of their readers in mind.
But sometimes when placed in the hot seat of making the choice to publish controversial writing, you can get burned.
Just before the New Year, seasoned op-ed writer for the Des Moines Register Donald Kaul busted out of retirement for the third time to write what was perceived to be an insensitive op-ed, on the NRA during an extremely sensitive time, as America was just beginning to put the pieces of their hearts back together after the Sandy Hooks Elementary shooting.
Kaul’s op-ed was an angry call to action to stop being concerned about “offending the NRA’s sensibility.” He made arguments for declaring the NRA as a terrorist organization. And included violent statements such as:
“Then I would tie Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, our esteemed Republican leaders, to the back of a Chevy pickup truck and drag them around a parking lot until they saw the light on gun control.”
Register readers where both outraged and supportive of Kaul’s piece, receiving 839 comments. Which only aided in drawing clear line in the sand in already heated and emotionally sensitive debate. The decision made by The Des Moines Register Media editor Rick Green, to publish Kaul’s op-ed, had backfired. And when faced with opposition from his readers he made the best PR move he could, and issued an apology, stating:
“It didn’t get the careful critique from us that it deserved. We should have tempered the rhetoric and insisted his views be a bit crisper so they weren’t misconstrued for condoning violence.
I regret those missteps. And while there certainly was no attempt to be reckless, I’m sorry if it may have offended you. It shows how the use of satire on such a sensitive issue can lead to confusion for the very readers we value. We will keep that lesson front-and-center in the future.”
And within the same day an apology was issued, the Des Moines Register published a revised, less satirical offensive version of Kaul’s op-ed, with the opening line being, “ I think I hit a nerve.”
This is only one example that calls to question, when to publish and when to not publish. Do you go with your gut? Do you stand by readers’ or your writers’? And should you ever apologize for exercising your right to the first amendment?