Sunday, December 7, 2008

Just What Is Okay These Days?

Photo by Matthew Jackson which accompanies John Fay's piece for Proposition 8 in the University of Washington Daily.

On November 25, 2008, the Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Washington, published an editorial by student John Fay titled “Gay Marriage? Let’s stop and think about this.” Fay’s article proved controversial enough, with almost 600 comments posted online. What has come under fire even more is the accompanying illustration, which shows a man and a sheep side-by-side. Illustrator Matthew Jackson claims it “was meant to convey the point Fay made in the opinion article about the legalization of gay marriage leading to the legalization of bestiality.” Daily editor-in-chief Sarah Jeglum has refused to issue an apology for printing the image, citing free speech and balanced viewpoints as perfectly reasonable and allowable. The image of a man and a sheep does seem to reflect the tone of Fay’s piece, though he’s quoted in The Seattle Times as “adding that he could have done a better job explaining his reference to bestiality.” I find myself encumbered by my own biases quite a bit here, but Fay makes a number of missteps and unsupported claims in his piece, such as the unevidenced assertion that “homosexuality is more of an emotional condition” and a gross error of omission when he says that many who opposed Proposition 8, a California law to ban gay marriage, were threatened with the loss of their jobs, ignoring completely any historical evidence of people being fired after coming out. The Daily also presented an opposing viewpoint to Fay’s article titled “Proposition 8 disappointing” by student Sarah Gaither. Gaither’s article, less aggressively written and accompanied by a more passive illustration of two women, is far more carefully composed and evidenced, using statistics and quoting sources rather than Fay’s humorous allusion to The Simpsons. Regardless of the balance presented with the two opposing pieces (Gaither’s, for the record, boasts under 100 comments), the printing of Jackson’s graphic seems irresponsible and unwise at best. Kyle Rapinan, a freshman at the University of Washington, started a Facebook group called “Students for a Hate Free Daily,” which he claims exists to “promote tolerance” and which he underlines is not against the paper itself but rather its careless and, he believes, insensitive practices. At a rally held on Friday, speakers stressed that they do not promote censorship but instead seek to “use this as an opportunity for learning; as a catalyst for change.” This situation strikes me as very similar to the subject of a previous blog post of mine regarding Ralph Nader’s usage of a taboo phrase and his subsequent takedown on FOX News. There doesn’t seem to be any excuse or forgiveness for using coarse and disrespectful language or imagery. The staff of the Daily seems not to have thought about their readership, but more importantly, the editor doesn’t seem to care that readers were upset about the image and even organized a rally to protest it. The staff of the Daily have the right to print whatever they want, but they should also have the sense to know what’s appropriate and what isn’t.

1 comment:

M. Dery said...

Thought-provoking post; really got my blood bubbling. A few unconsidered, off-the-cuff thoughts: what, exactly, is your definition of "appropriate"? That, after all, is the weasel word, here. My appropriate is your wildly inappropriate; who sits in judgment of what news is and isn't "fit to print"? Would have loved to have seen you wrestle with that thorny question. Another thought: Fay sounds like Michael Savage, with training wheels. And the blogosphere is rewarding him with 600 flaming comments versus the other, more reasoned, more judicious columnist's less than 100. If the attention economy---codeword: the masses---rewards attacking heads, why *wouldn't* a certain species of frat-house jackal roll his jaws at the prospect of going for the Ann Coulter gold? As reasoned argument, her books are risible, fraught with out-of-context quotes and factoids so self-evidently false they'd make a cow laugh. But that hasn't stopped them from becoming bestsellers. Also, the editor may bear some modicum of responsibility, here: is the DAILY trying to generate buzz and pump up its must-read rep by offering a bullhorn to the worst elements in the student body?