Several years ago, after a column I’d written about Bill Cosby caused the website of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News to suffer a meltdown due to liberal apoplexy, my then-editor Sandra Shea was essentially forced to write an editorial explaining why I was “allowed” to air my views on philly.com.
She opened with this existential, Sartre-esque question: “I … ask myself how I could live with myself giving a platform to someone who stands for everything I abhor.”
She then went on to explain how shocked she was that, given my education and professional pedigree, I had plummeted from the heights of enlightenment, all the while acknowledging that it was a fascinating puzzle:
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“But given her background as a Bryn Mawr graduate and a practicing immigration attorney, clearly something went awry in her path to progressive feminism, the one trod by me and most of the women I know. And that’s what I find intriguing, and interesting … and counter-intuitive. What shaped her view of the world, originating as it did in circumstances and background similar to many people I know? What is it that shapes the worldview of any of us? I find myself still pulled in by this mystery.”
And finally, after explaining that we shared nothing in common but that she felt it was important to continue to provide me with a platform, Sandy ended with this:
“I know she has hordes of people who agree with what she says and is grateful she has a voice as public as hers is. There are still plenty of instances when I cringe when reading her work, and if I still had the luxury of living unchallenged in my peaceful and liberal alternative universe, I would have silenced her years ago. But I don’t, and I know the universe is more complex. And besides, there’s another luxury that I find harder to live without: outrage. She provides ample opportunity for that (okay, maybe we have enough of those opportunities now) as well as a reminder that many, many people disagree with me and my views. But if we truly believe in democracy, all voices should get an equal opportunity to be heard.
That’s how I’ve made my peace with Christine Flowers.”
I should have realized that this was the first, insidious step in the march towards uniformity, censorship and the destruction of free and uninhibited discourse at a once proud paper.
I’ve reprinted large parts of that editorial, the entirety of which can be read here, because I think it places in stark contrast the more open-minded approach of my former editor, with whom I often vehemently disagreed but who I admired, with the current philosophy of the paper.
Last week, the Inquirer ran in bold letters on the front page of its Sunday edition, “Black City, White Paper.” And where Sandy Shea presented a quasi-apology for running the troubling byline of a conservative who had rejected the progressive feminism of her natural tribe, the current publisher Elizabeth Hughes chose to issue a sycophantic, embarrassing mea culpa for not being more sensitive to the color of her readers. I won’t quote from that editorial, other than to highlight this part, which is fairly representative of the whole:
“An acknowledgment of our failings is not sufficient. We also apologize — to the Black residents and communities of Philadelphia, to the Black journalists of The Inquirer past and present, and to other communities and people whom we have also neglected or harmed.”
That’s it, in a nutshell. The paper has not done enough to be black, to be black-adjacent, to be black allies, to be all black, all the time. There was no nuance, no suggestion that perhaps this might be considered insulting to those readers of color who simply want the news presented fairly and not in such a way as to fall gently on their ears, their eyes and not trouble their tender sensitivities.
In short, it was an execrable embarrassment.
While I wasn’t particularly thrilled to be told I was the poster child for everything that my editor “abhorred,” I admired the fact that she was willing to address her concerns head-on, and wasn’t worried about offending me in the process. Her editorial was an apology of sorts to those who had to suffer through my conservative ravings, but it was also a statement that she would not stop printing my pieces.
The current apology to the “black communities” says quite the opposite. It is an indication that articles which might trigger or oppress certain susceptible individuals who are absolutely not representative of mature adults will not be printed. In fact, they have already indicated that some columns from the past that might not be “sensitive” enough to communities of color will be made more difficult to find on the website, pushed into the technological memory hole that would make Orwell wince.
Even worse, though, than the apology to the black readers is the fawning, grasping, nauseating sycophancy toward black “journalists” at the paper. To suggest that a paper needs to worry about triggered employees is far worse than its concern over readers (and let’s be honest, circulation.) It is an indication that the highest standards of journalistic integrity have been reduced to keeping the kids at the word processors happy, shielding them from the harsh realities of a world which does not feel it owes anyone an apology.
I will admit that I was not exactly thrilled to be held up as the conservative scold at the Inquirer and Daily News, and that a woman who was in charge of mentoring my work had such a low opinion of my character. But I was at least grateful that she had enough guts and courage to let me speak for myself.
Three years after Sandy’s editorial appeared, I was let go. Ostensibly, it was because I’d refused to take down my Twitter feed (good luck with that) but it wasn’t a coincidence that this happened around the same time that Black Lives Matter got a foothold in the national consciousness.
Shortly after I was fired, the Inquirer ran an article with the headline “Buildings Matter, Too,” and that was the end of Stan Wischnowski, the paper’s longtime editor-in-chief. More heads have rolled since our departure, and the whole zeitgeist of the newsroom has “awokened,” so to speak.
When Sandy’s editorial ran, I was a little annoyed, but at the same time grateful that my voice was still heard. (Shea, herself, left the Inquirer in 2021.) I should have realized that this was the first, insidious step in the march towards uniformity, censorship and the destruction of free and uninhibited discourse at a once proud paper.
Rest in Peace, old friend.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61
16 thoughts on “Christine Flowers: On the demise of a once-great newspaper”
This article would have been better had it included the link to Elizabeth Hughes column.
My point, for many months now on my site, is that, in committing to Miss Hughes’ dictate that the Inquirer would be an “anti-racist news organization,” the newspaper has censored itself, declining to print anything that could, in any way, be considered critical of the black community. There have been 81 murders in Philly as of Sunday, February 27th, five more than the same date last year, but the paper only ruins stories on those killings in which the victim was an obvious innocent, a ‘somebody,’ or a cute little white girl, because the vast majority of the killings are one black bad guy by another black bad guy, and to publicize that would be to, in the words of the Sacramento Bee, “perpetuate stereotypes about who commits crime in our community.”
The Inquirer has become a propaganda broadsheet for the woke, but in American journalism today, it’s hardly alone in that.
Thank you for this great and illustrative post. Delusional wokeness has infected dozens of newsrooms across the United States. The Inky is but the latest example – the New York Times jettisoned editor Bari Weiss because, even though a gay liberal, she wasn’t all-in on her wokeness. A daily walk to the Washington Post exhibits equal levels of nonsense. And there is a reason now that circulation and readership has been on the decline. Well done.
I miss you at the Inquirer! I call almost every day, about how LOW the great paper has lower it’s NEWS standards.. with no position on the right! Now they want black people to spend $5.00 on Sunday to read what was on the news Friday night.
When will they learn that apologizes are not what they want. It’s not over until there’s superiority. Bravo Christine -a voice that makes us think and gives us hope that we have those who stand strong in the face of “wokeness”.
I’ve been watching the letters to the editor since BLACK CITY. WHITE PAPER appeared. There have printed a few praising it, but not one criticizing it. That tells you how one sided that rag has become.
In 2001 I cancelled my long-time home-delivery subscription to The Inquirer. I continued to pick up the Sunday edition for a couple of months more, but by the end of the year I had stopped even that. Since that time I have had a subscription to The Wall Street Journal and haven’t missed the Inquirer at all. i get all of the Philadelphia news I need from listening to KYW. I think there are lot of folks our there who have done likewise. Paid readership is the cleanest vote on the value of the Inquirer
Ms. Flowers is learning bit by bit. She has been overweeningly fastidious in the past, as many Mawrters are, but it is heartening that she is now realizing just how determined the Left is to terminate debate, and that no slander is too low for it to employ.
I stopped reading the Inquirer years ago just because of the. It was no longer a paper of news, but of opinion. Very few writers delivered the “news” and let you form your own opinion. Journalism should set forth facts, and not a person’s biased opinion. Christine Flowers measures up to a great journalist in my eyes.
Thank you, deeply appreciated
I stopped reading the Inquirer in the ’70’s, left philly in ’80. never looked back.
The problem was never that there were so few black journalists. The problem has always been that every single one of the white “journalists” commenting on black issues and issues that are exclusive to regular Philadelphians of working class and otherwise lower-class backgrounds are gentrifiers who were raised in a bubble in their sheltered suburbs.
This “apology” is a decade too late and like every other “apology” by a left-leaning gentrifier is not the least bit genuine. They don’t at all care about any of the things they virtue signal about or apologize for. It’s all an act to avoid being held accountable for the unbelievably ignorant and condescending way they’ve covered the people in the city that don’t live their urban staycation, upper middle to upper class life.
They’ve learned very well from the previous generations of white liberals/leftists.
And as others said, there has been very little actual journalism at that paper for a long time. It’s all just editorializing and opining disguised as journalism.
Exceptionally well said.
For reasons which have surely paled over the past decade, I still subscribe to the INQUIRER. I perhaps should have ended my subscription when Christine Flowers was publicly caned and then canned for disagreeing with her “woke” editorial staff, yet did not. I needed to see myself how low the local newspaper could go, and now I know that time has come today to end my own financial support of such disgustingly biased journalism. The huge irony here is that, if I were to document the myriad factors supporting my decision to “divorce” the INQUIRER from my existence in this comment, those patently pretentious poohbahs of the local press might just “cancel” me before I could terminate them. What a fine kettle of fishiness we are in — right?
I knew Elizabeth Hughes years ago in NYC when she was the publisher of Conde Nast Traveler. My guess is that she took this job after getting
fired by Conde Nast. She was the least woke person I ever met.
The Inquirer has not been great newspaper for a long time, if in fact it was ever a great newspaper. Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer is a progressive newspaper that every day gets progressively worse. I stopped buying it when they got rid of their on-line comments section. It was the only part of the Inquirer where a reader could find out about the veracity of the Inquirer’s stories. Even in the comments section I am sure the Inquirer’ journalists or editors probably jimbradied out the best comments that refuted their progressive dogma.
Please replace the word ‘jimbradied with “jimbakered” in the above piece. Thank you.