By: Avi Strauss  | 

Why We Publish What We Publish

It would be lying to pretend members of our editorial board don’t hold a wide array of biases and opinions, many times in conflict with one another. But I also am confident that there is one opinion that we all subscribe too—namely, freedom of speech. We may edit, touch up or rework articles submitted to us, but we never compromise the integrity of the opinions presented by our writers. While we reserve the right to refuse to publish a submission, we would almost exclusively do so if an article was written irresponsibly or poorly, while suggesting ways in which the article could be improved and ultimately become publishable.

Nonetheless, in light of some of the recent opinion pieces we published on controversial matters, like the Confederate Flag, some readers questioned our discretion and tact. In their eyes, our willingness to publish a piece like a defense of the student who wore the flag, which contained views that are unpopular -- and highly unpopular to a certain group -- is a moral tragedy worthy of delegitimizing our editorial standing. Some despaired over the state of the university paper they were once a part of, while others decried the state of education period at Yeshiva, because of the views of one of its alumni or the actions of one of its students. I strenuously object to these condemnations.

To indict Yeshiva University, or the editorial board of The Commentator, which operates independently of the college and is completely self-funded, for any singular opinion expressed by a by-line writer, betrays the supposition that the complainant values free speech in its true sense. Although I feel as if this point is becoming belabored in some segments of the opinion writing sphere, free speech and freedom of the press were consecrated as fundamental rights specifically to protect views that are unpopular. Certainly popular views, or even the views of the self-righteous moral preeners of Facebook comment streams, will find platforms for expression. They don’t require the same protection as out-of-favor views in controversial times.

Although the progressive tendency to over-classify opposing opinions as “hate speech” may be popular with some readers, it is not the prevailing view of The Commentator. If it makes those people uncomfortable that our newspaper will not reliably print opinion pieces that conform to their own preconceived notions, then they should get used to the discomfort.

I imagine those who wish to censor some of the speech from our last issue in particular would take issue if we decided to consider other types of speech unpublishable. For instance, what if the editors resolved that the advocacy of abortion was equivalent with advocacy of murder, and therefore made a blanket ban on pro-choice style opinion pieces, due to the ideological conceptions of fringe elements from one side of the political spectrum. I imagine others would wish that we censor opinions from Roshei Yeshiva that explicitly or implicitly refer to individual student actions as racist, for fear of becoming complicit in lashon hara. Absent imbuing the opinion’s section with a defined ideological bent, the mental hurdles that would have to be done to limit disagreeable speech would test even an Olympic mental hurdler.

Regardless, contemplating the best way to remain consistent in this regard while rejecting submissions on ideological grounds is a futile exercise. We do have standards for refusing content, but we do so while keeping in mind our goal to broaden dialogue--not constrain it. Now this includes, without being limited to, speech that may incite violence and speech that needlessly targets or offends. And while the range of speech that may qualify as “needlessly offensive” may be broad in the eyes of some of our detractors, we believe that much unpopular speech can be given a reasoned defense. Trigger warnings, cognitive dissonance and offense on behalf of others be damned.

Newspapers have always been and remain, at least in some places, bastions of free expression. As platforms to amplify opinions from across the political spectrum, we elevate debate and dialogue for those willing to challenge their own preconceived notions and entrenched thought. Surely this opens up articles to strong critique and appraisal—but that is exactly the point. To contest the notion that we publish certain disagreeable things is to seek to control the flow of information rather than join the discussion.

So decry our “tact”. Bemoan the fact that our student newspaper is open to a variety of viewpoints. Lament the fact that the editors of this paper refuse to kowtow to your preferred and narrow “objectively correct” stances. But we certainly will not accede to outright suppression of unpopular opinions.