When an advertisement ran in Monday’s edition of The Lantern, our editorial staff was bombarded with dozens of emails and phone calls from outraged readers who were offended by the advertisement’s content. The ad in question was titled “Former Leaders of the Muslim Student Association (MSA): Where are they now?” and included a list of former MSA presidents who went on to become members of al-Qaida or al-Shabab. Below the list was a picture of a pamphlet which read, “Muslim hate groups on campus.”
But what many of these outraged readers did not understand is that, at our paper and many papers, there is a separation between the editorial staff and the sales staff. The editorial staff is solely in charge of the paper’s journalistic content. The sales staff handles the advertising content. The editorial staff has no knowledge of the content of advertisements that run in the paper, nor do we have a say in which ads run, and likewise, the sales staff has no say in which stories we do or do not publish. This separation holds true not only for the controversial ad that ran Monday, but also for any ad published in The Lantern, and it exists to ensure that our readers receive the most objective content possible.
Because of the separation between the editorial and business sides, our staff saw the ad for the first time when we picked up copies of the paper Monday, just like our readers. And we do not deny that the ad was incredibly offensive to Muslims and to OSU students in general. OSU prides itself on diversity. As students at OSU, we pride ourselves on embracing that diversity in our everyday life and as the staff at the paper of record for the university, we pride ourselves on embracing that diversity in our work. Our staff found the ad to be incredibly offensive and ignorant. We do not agree with the content of the ad and we are not happy that so many of our readers were hurt by its content.
But we, as a staff, also hold the right to free speech near and dear to our hearts. Though we do not endorse or agree with the views in the ad, we do believe that Daniel Greenfield, the author of the pamphlet pictured in the ad, has a right to his opinions. While we would hope that America has moved past this ignorant way of thinking, this country was founded on certain core values, and the right to express your views, no matter how insulting they may be, is one of those values. Though we had no say in the matter, we do not question the sales staff’s decision to run this advertisement. The second The Lantern rejects an advertisement or other content solely on the grounds that we do not agree with the views it expresses or that it might offend some people, our integrity as a journalistic organization will have been compromised because we will have denied someone the right that we invoke every single day — the right to free speech. Whether or not we agree with the advertisement or are offended by its content, which we assure you, we were, if the sales staff had rejected the ad, our readers would have been the losers in the long run.
Our responsibility as journalists is to bring our readers fair and objective stories, no matter how unpopular the views expressed in those stories might be. In order for us to continue to invoke our right to free speech every day, we cannot, in good conscience, support the suspension of that right for other people.