The Editors: Inquirer’s editorial goes overboard with hasty, hyperbolic judgment against Central Bucks schools

Well, you certainly can’t accuse the Philadelphia Inquirer of both-sides-ism journalism. 

The editorial team for our region’s paper of record was all too eager to present only one side of the story when it comes to an LGBT-related controversy in the Central Bucks School District.

In the Sunday edition, the editorial team highlighted numerous points from a complaint compiled by the left-wing ACLU Pennsylvania, which, according to the ACLU website, was filed with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education.

In writing the editorial, the Inquirer abandoned any pretense of skepticism, eagerly lapping up almost every accusation as factual in an apparent attempt to continue to foment anger at the school board there — one which just happens to have recently taken on a right-leaning majority among its members.

Here’s just one sampling of the “if-the-ACLU-said-it-then-it-must-be-fact” tone of the editorial:

“What emerged from those interviews was ‘a toxic educational environment for LGBTQ students.’ To make matters worse, the trauma and pain inflicted on the students have been ‘exacerbated by homophobic and transphobic actions and polices taken recently by the school board and upper-level administrators,’ the ACLU found.”

Yet the ACLU’s own description of the complaint twice references “alleged discrimination” (emphasis added), a characterization apparently too rigorous or open-ended for the Inquirer.

Having dispensed with skepticism, the Inquirer then headed straight for the hyperbole buffet, accusing the CBSD of “essentially [launching] a crusade against LGBTQ students.”

One almost gets the sense the Inquirer is still hoping to find Jussie Smollett’s attackers.

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Legal complaints are usually very one-sided. They are meant to persuade, and they always tell their stories in the best light. And, in this case, the ACLU redacted 27 pages of its formal complaint so precious details are hidden.

Had cooler and more mature heads prevailed at the Inquirer, the editorial team would have at least waited until the school district filed its reply with the court before rendering their sanctimonious judgment from on high.

Ah, but that was never going to happen because the ACLU’s complaint is not a lawsuit — a fact the writer (or writers) got wrong, and the paper has now corrected.

Still, in the original lead paragraph before correction, the editorial sardonically lambasted the district for “paying a lawyer $940 an hour to defend a federal complaint of its own making,” which is 100 percent factually incorrect.

There is no federal lawsuit. No lawyer is being paid to “defend” the district.

The Inquirer’s sloppiness was so extraordinary that even after it issued its correction that no federal lawsuit had been filed, the editorial’s cut line still insisted that the district was having to “to fend off a federal complaint of its own making.”

What is true is that the district is paying a set of lawyers to investigate the extent to which any anti-LGBT culture might exist at CBSD.

The Inquirer’s own reporting says, “The Central Bucks School District is paying former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain $940 an hour to address allegations it has created a hostile environment for LGBTQ students.”

Ideally, the Inquirer would be appreciative or at least willing to acknowledge that the district appears to be taking the allegations seriously — but sadly, no.

Broad + Liberty does not object to the Inquirer originally reporting on the ACLU’s complaint, even though no legal reply from the district was ever going to be filed in court. The complaint was newsworthy in and of itself, and if the reply would have been filed in this mythical court case, we feel assured Inquirer reporters would have included some of the district’s rebuttals in future stories.

Our own pages have reported on initial complaints at times when the reply was not available.

We object to the editorial team acting as if the allegations are settled matters of fact and deploying no skepticism while the district is still investigating and is prudently withholding comment at least momentarily until those proceedings conclude.

Second, LGBT students should be protected from bullying and should be treated with the same care, concern, and humanity as any other student. If there are real, genuine instances of abuse or unfairness, it would be a good thing for those to be sussed out, corrected, and disciplined where necessary.

Additionally, all students should be protected from bullying. In public schools across the region and the nation, bullying behavior is a regular occurrence whether its focus is on LGBT students, minority students, or the vast array of differences that exist in our schools. Administrators and school boards have a responsibility to protect all children from such behavior.

But what the Inquirer did on Sunday was not editorial journalism. It was political activism with calls to action, telling its readers “the best outcome would be for the school board members and administrators who have failed to protect and support the LGBTQ students to be replaced immediately.”

Not replaced in November: Replaced immediately. This, from a publication that correctly condemns election denialism and frequently crows about elections and consequences. In this case, selective application of such principles undermines far more than their own credibility. 

We know it’s almost become a cliché of late, but we join with the thousands of others in the region who sincerely ask, “Please, Inquirer, be worthy of your name.”

Broad + Liberty reached out to the Inquirer editorial editors, asking if enough skepticism was deployed, and if the paper was advocating for a recall of board members rather than removal by elections.

“The point of the editorial was to underscore the hostile environment that LGBTQ students say they are facing, and how the school district has made matters worse with some of its initiatives,” Richard G. Jones, the opinion managing editor, told us by email.

“Our editorial board felt that — instead of getting bogged down in a costly legal battle — the school district should work to improve the climate in its schools so that all students feel welcome and supported,” Jones concluded.

Given that we’ve already established there is no legal battle, and that the McSwain investigation is aimed precisely at “improving the climate in its schools,” it’s clear the editorial missed its mark in every important way. The paper’s second hypothesis was grounded in a factual error. Taking Jones at his word that this is merely about spending priorities, we are further left to conclude that the call for board members to resign or be removed was a gratuitous grinding of the political axe. 

It’s also worth noting that like many left-leaning publications, the Inquirer has over-hyped LGBT issues before.

When the township board of West Chester claimed they received “dozens” of hateful and vitriolic emails about a town-sponsored event that featured drag queens, the Inky was right there to do the stenography.

Further reporting by Broad + Liberty, however, showed that, at best, there were three emails out of nine total that could be described as hateful sent to the township board members — certainly not “dozens.” The Inquirer was willing to inflate the controversy by a matter of 400 percent or more. 

If the paper wants less “hate” in its community, it can start by not crying wolf.

Broad + Liberty asked the Inquirer if the reporter in the West Chester incident even saw any of the alleged emails before publishing the story. The Inquirer did not respond to that question and others.

We know it’s almost become a cliché of late, but we join with the thousands of others in the region who sincerely ask, “Please, Inquirer, be worthy of your name.”

Broad + Liberty is a nonprofit media endeavor dedicated to sharing voices and stories that are shut out of other media outlets. @BroadAndLiberty

5 thoughts on “The Editors: Inquirer’s editorial goes overboard with hasty, hyperbolic judgment against Central Bucks schools”

  1. I felt that The Inquirer had gone off the the track of evenhanded journalism when I cancelled my subscription in 2000. I have never had cause to look back. I get a run down of local news by listening to KYW. There is a reason why The Inquirer is a dying institution.

  2. I delivered the Inquirer when I was young, some would say, before electricity, and it was a worthy newspaper. It is sad to see that legacy media generally gave up trying to maintain readership with actual facts and rational, well-thought-out opinion pieces. Now we get “nearly facts,” mindless rants and propaganda.

  3. Speaking as a political independent, anytime someone brings up the Inquirer I immediately correct them and call it “The Philadelphia Pravda”. The propaganda coming from that rag is THAT bad.

  4. That paper is not even worthy of being used for puppy house breaking training. It has decayed into a haven for new age leftists and fools. Time to pull the plug and just let it die.

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