Hypocrisy is essentially the professing of virtues to which one’s own behavior does not conform. If there were a Pulitzer Prize for newspaper hypocrisy, a strong contender for the award would be The Philadelphia Inquirer.

On December 14, the editors of the Inquirer published an editorial essentially stating that despite the departure of Penn president Liz Magill, “Penn must stay the course” on free speech issues. Magill had stepped down as president a few days after she and two other “elite” university presidents testified before the House Committee on Education. All three were asked by Representative Elise M. Stefanik of New York if calls for the genocide of the Jewish people violated their university’s rules or code of conduct. All three said that it depended upon the context.

Magill’s answer (which the editorial referred to as “a muddled answer to a question on student discipline”) “led the White House, Gov. Josh Shapiro, and other civic leaders to openly criticize her response.” A number of donors and outside voices were also critical. The editorial urged that “Instead of listening to donors and outside voices, Penn should pay heed to some of the students and institutional leaders” who offered other advice. Penn’s student-run newspaper wrote that “The path forward for Penn must be paved with more, not less, speech.”

The editorial stated that “It is essential that Penn does not allow the turbulence of this unfortunate series of events to further compromise its commitment to freedom of speech and academic expression.” The editorial went on to say that “At times, that will include speech that makes some uncomfortable, across a number of intractable political divides.”

A reasonable reading of the entire editorial would lead to the conclusion that the editors felt that Magill should not have had to resign her position for her testimony, and that Penn should remain committed to free speech.

The problem with the editors espousing that position, however, is not that it is wrong, but that it is hypocritical of them for doing so since they have not supported free speech themselves.

On June 1, 2020, the Inquirer used the headline, “Buildings Matter, Too,” on a column about looting, vandalism, and damage to buildings in Philadelphia amid ongoing protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a white police officer. The column was written by the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture critic Inga Saffron. She wrote that “over the last two days . . . a dark cloud of smoke [has] spiraled up from Center City. What started as a poignant and peaceful protest in Dilworth Park on Saturday morning ended up in a frenzy of destruction by evening. Hardly any building on Walnut and Chestnut Streets was left unscathed, and two mid-19th century structures just east of Rittenhouse Square were gutted by fire.”

She continued: “Their chances of survival are slim, which means there could soon be a gaping hole in the heart of Philadelphia, in one of its most iconic and historic neighborhoods. And protesters moved on to West Philadelphia’s fragile 52nd Street shopping corridor, an important center of black life, where yet more property has been battered.”

A large group of journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer took a sick day to protest the headline. Not only did the editors promptly publish an apology saying: “A headline published in Tuesday’s Inquirer was offensive, inappropriate and we should not have printed it. We deeply regret that we did.” And the Philadelphia Inquirer’s top editor, Stan Wischnowski, 58, resigned as senior vice president and executive editor.

So much for staying the course and defending “speech that makes some uncomfortable”. 

Then, earlier this year the Inquirer, and a great many other newspapers across the nation, dropped the comic strip “Dilbert.” The Andrews McMeel Syndication, the distributor of Dilbert, also dropped it. They didn’t drop it because of anything that appeared in Dilbert. Rather, they did it to punish Dilbert’s creator, Scott Adams, for making a comment offensive to black people in his YouTube show Real Coffee with Scott Adams.

In the particular episode, Adams referenced a Rasmussen Reports survey that had asked whether people agreed with the statement “It’s OK to be white.” Most agreed, but Adams noted that 26 percent of black respondents disagreed and others weren’t sure. Apparently, the fact that 26 percent of the blacks who responded didn’t think that it was OK to be white led him to refer to black people as a “hate group” and advised white people to “get the hell away from black people.” 

“The views expressed by Scott Adams are unambiguously racist,” said Gabriel Escobar, editor and senior vice president of The Inquirer. “As with all race-baiting, his comments are profoundly disturbing and dangerous. We will no longer publish Dilbert.”

Thus, it is obvious that at the Inquirer there is no place for speech that deplores the destruction of buildings as part of a protest. And it is apparently okay for the Inquirer to punish a speaker of “speech that makes some uncomfortable,” if it racist. But the institution that might, in some context, allow calling for the genocide of the Jewish people is urged by the Inquirer to “stay the course”.

And so, the First Place Award for Gross Hypocrisy goes to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Howard Lurie is Emeritus Professor of Law, Charles. Widger School of Law, Villanova University 

5 thoughts on “Howard Lurie: The Inquirer’s hypocrisy on free speech”

  1. Thank you for writing a clear and true picture of the hypocrisy that is going on in America today. Anything that doesn’t fit the (someone’s) narrative gets falsely labeled as “wrong”, or “racist” or “a fascist”.

  2. I view the drivel found in the “Inquirer” not so much hypocrisy as virulent propaganda. Quite frankly, I see little difference between the “Inquirer” and the German newspapers of the 1930s, papers such as Frankfurter Zeitung. The frightening thing to my mind is the fact that the people responsible for the newspaper, do not see opposing points of view. and do not hold to their legitimacy. They are convinced that there are no points of view other than their own. I believe Eric Hofer would have labeled them as “True Believers.” How frightening for our world.

  3. Free speech only applies when the government interferes, as stated in the First Amendment. Otherwise there are no other restrictions. The author should attend a civics class.

  4. Every single time Scott Adams has had a setback in his life, minorities are to blame. When he lost his job at Pacific Bell, it was because he was white. When he lost his TV show on UPN, it’s because the network decided to cater to black people. And last year he lost his job as a syndicated cartoonist because the mean ‘woke’ mob says he’s a racist. He has never once taken responsibility for his own actions. Everything bad in his life ‘happens’ to him, never ’caused’ by him.

    Scott lost over 200 newspapers in a single blow. Surely some of those must have been right-leaning publications.

  5. Twitter becoming X allows sunshine. Some of it highlights unpleasant and uncomfortable parts of humanity. Do we want to repeat the 2020 exercises of Salem witch trial-like irrationality?!? During 2020 and the last Presidential election who owned Twitter? Not Elon. 80 FBI agents were there at Twitter to control what you read. Elon Musk recently, and inconveniently, has pointed out that hundreds of thousands of people each month are pouring across the U.S. Borders (Biden is scum.) “You do not need a government issued I.D. to vote. And you can mail in your ballot. That is insane.” Yet, we have local radio jockey clowns, like Dom Giordano and Mike Gallagher, that think that is fine. Correct? Correct.
    The mail-in ballots are… cheating garbage. This has been designed plan for a long time. “Unrelenting stream of immigration.” They demand our money via taxes. If you are a taxpayer and you are not irate it is a wonder. Elon Musk is just a man. They malign him. They push drugs as much as possible. They try to confuse our children about basic biology. We have been bombarded for decades. It is because God is our Father and we forgot that and need to seek Him.

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