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:
READ MORE — Christine Flowers: Masking the truth about Justice Gorsuch
“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