The editorial column “Reckless Endangerment” addressing the Syrian refugee situation which the Empire published last month, provoked a flood of comments from Juneau readers and residents — mostly negative. In case you missed the column, the editorial piece provided a full-throated admonishment of the President of the United States and the Secretary of State’s announced intent to admit thousands of Syrian refugees into America in the next two years.
By and large, Juneau residents found the editorial column unnecessarily shrill and mostly devoid of the kind of reasoning characteristic of sound advocacy. The editorial was needlessly xenophobic, full of hyperbole and invoked fear over reason. The tone of the article seemed out of place as an opinion piece from our local newspaper.
As the Alaska Public Broadcasting Network has now reported, the editorial was indeed not a product of the Juneau editorial staff. It ran concurrently in all the papers owned and operated by Morris Publishing Group, including the Empire. We like to think of the Empire as our hometown newspaper, but like many small media outlets, it is a piece of a much larger media corporation.
We have always appreciated the diverse views presented on the Empire’s editorial page. The editors regularly bring us views from all over the political spectrum, including editorials from other newspapers and My Turns from national and local pundits. The letters and comments published by the Empire contribute to reasoned discourse and better understanding of complex issues. Essential to this discourse and perspectives on issues is transparency and accountability; the Empire tells us whose opinions we are reading, and will not publish anonymous contributions.
We applaud the policy of accountability. We know from experience how discussion and commentary can degrade into name-calling and personal attacks when people have the cloak of anonymity. In this era of SuperPacs directing hundreds of millions of dollars to influence elections and policy at national, state, and local levels, it is paramount that we know who is exercising their freedom of speech so we can better judge the content and the agenda.
We acknowledge that the owners of the Juneau Empire and other media outlets have the right to publish any opinion they desire. The owner of the Juneau Empire had the right and the ability to insert the “Reckless Endangerment” editorial column in the paper and that is what apparently happened last month. But we also think that Morris Communications should hold itself to the same standards of transparency and accountability that it requires for other commentators, and identify the source of the opinion.
Ownership that allows for publication of a strongly worded editorial position isn’t the only criteria when advocating.
We believe owning a newspaper has duties. Some of these duties are to the local community in which the paper is published. Some are to the readers and yes, some are to the so-called “bottom line.”
Above and beyond anything else, we also believe the ownership of the Juneau Empire or any other newspaper has a duty to publish the truth.
The truth is, the refugee problem in the Syria, the Middle-east and other parts of the world is an enormous humanitarian problem and one that requires all thoughtful individuals, organizations and nations to act. The terrorist acts in Paris make it even more important to act in a rational manner with full attribution for positions taken least we fall into the same fanatical pattern of decision making adopted by the killers. By engaging in fear mongering and hysteria, the “Reckless Endangerment” editorial fueled fear instead of advancing solutions to an obvious problem. Essentially, the anonymous editorial placed in the Juneau Empire was really nothing more than a rework of the kind of screed that litters big portions of the internet anymore.
Nobody, not the President or the Secretary of State or anyone in Juneau is advocating for the carte blanche acceptance or immigration of terrorists, be they Muslims or of any other persuasion, as was implied in the “Reckless Endangerment” editorial column. The overwrought writing in the column obscured a couple of valid points made relating to the refugee issue.
Our advice in the future when publishing editorial positions emanating from the corporate headquarters is to base the rhetoric on facts and try and promote a genuine solution to the problem.
At the very least, have the decency to attribute the position taken to the actual authors instead of allowing the readership to wonder where in the world the missive originated.
—Empire Readers’ Council
• Empire Readers’ Council editorials are written by members Joe Geldhof, Tom Rutecki, Amy Skilbred, Alex Wertheimer and Marc Wheeler. Director of Audience Abby Lowell serves as moderator.