By Paul Greenberg, Tribune Media Services
I'm the editor here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette who put that article that so offended you -- and a number of other valued readers -- on the cover of our Sunday opinion September 11th.
It was wholly a pleasure to hear from you all because it gives me an opportunity to explain why I would do such a thing.
You remember that article -- indeed, you won't soon forget it. It was headed, "Let's Cancel 9/11/ America, tear down that Freedom Tower." It suggested the country stop observing the anniversary of the most devastating surprise attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor.
I don't agree with the writer, either. Which is precisely why I chose to run it in so prominent a place. Because it offered a provocative counterpoint to the view we took on our editorial page that same day -- a full-page color reproduction of the attack on the Twin Towers emblazoned with the words: "Remember/September 11th."
The article that got you so stirred up took a diametrically opposite view from my own column on that same page. ("What have we learned from this?")
Far from canceling September 11th, I've long thought -- and suggested -- that we ought to move Flag Day, now almost forgotten in June, to September 11th.
Remember how all the flags came out as the news of the attacks spread? Within hours, Old Glory was flying atop the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center. It would be raised over suburban houses and in inner cities, on cars and trucks and trailers, at the Pentagon ... and over that black gash in an empty field near Shanksville, Pa. That was the only trace left when United Flight 93 exploded there with its 7,000 gallons of jet fuel that fateful morning.
As the saga of United 93 reminds us, Americans were fighting back even before the terrorists could complete their plans. ("Let's Roll!") Forget those heroes? Never.
The whole country seemed united that day in one roar of defiance, and our armed forces would soon respond. As they respond to this day.
Cancel September 11th? Like hell we will.
But also part of being American is to let all voices be heard, even and especially those that provoke us. So on September 11th of this year, the 10th anniversary of another day that will live in infamy, our opinion section offered a wide array of opinions to our wide array of readers.
Naturally, people will disagree with any number of opinions expressed in the paper. But I'd rather folks disagree with us, even be upset with us, than not get the widest spectrum of opinions into the paper.
Just this past Sunday, we ran an interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president and demagogue-in-chief, on the cover of our opinion section. If this were 1933, and we had a full interview with Adolf Hitler available, I'd run it, too. Forewarned is forearmed.
A good newspaper, I would submit, reflects a wide array of opinions and not just those we find comfortable. I can't think of a more damning description of an opinion section than "inoffensive." A newspaper so afraid of offending that it won't print anything unpopular isn't worth reading.
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I understand if you hold a different opinion, and we'd be more than happy to consider a letter to the editor from you to that effect. Feel free to join the free-for-all we try to conduct on our opinion pages. That kind of robust debate, I would submit, is what the First Amendment is all about. Come on in, the water's hot.
Freedom only for those whose views we approve, or whose views don't stray too far from our own, isn't freedom at all but a kind of echo chamber.
The increasing atomization of American opinion strikes me as dangerous. More and more Americans seem to read only publications or consult websites that mirror their own convictions/prejudices. Or tune in to a television network, whether Fox or MSNBC, that will reinforce rather than challenge their own ideas.
But we need to know not just what like-minded folk think, but what those on the other side have to say.
Who knows, we might learn something. At least about the bounds of our own tolerance. And about some of the notions being preached on the far left and many a college campus. (Or do I repeat myself?)
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Certainly the press, now known as The Media, ought to be criticized -- most of all by the press itself. The Republic is seldom safer than when its various pundits are taking out after each other -- and taking aim at every sacred bovine in sight.
So long as newspapers and commentators and writers of irate letters to the editor are at each other's throats and ideas, freedom may yet prosper. For a robust exchange of opinion is what a free country is all about--in my opinion.
(Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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