Dan Lawton : Journalist

Reader Hammers ODE for Printing “Biased” Column

Such is the assertion of UO undergraduate Becky Weissman, whose letter to the editor, “Emerald Should Run Unbiased Opinions,” decried the Oregon Daily Emerald’s decision to print a  guest opinion piece critical of Israel. According to Weismman, the article was biased, repugnant and “laced with unsupported claims.”

The piece in question was written by UO faculty member Mohamed Jemmali and mainly criticized the role of the U.S. in supporting Israeli acts of provocation.

Jemmali wrote: “I know that my taxes are supporting American weapons given to Israel to kill Palestinians, occupy their land and destroy their homes. I know America is the only supporter of Israel in the U.N. I know these are the primary causes of promoting hatred among Arabs against Americans.”

Though the tone of the opinion piece was indeed inflammatory and Mr. Jemmali’s politics bled right through, nothing in the piece advocated hate.  Weismann states that such a “volatile” article should not have been run and says,”If you insist on publishing an article laced with unsupported judgment, the appropriate measure would have been to place an article arguing the opposing point of view right next to Jemmali’s article.”

I agree that it’s always nice to see opposing points of view on the opinion page and it would benefit many newspapers if they ran point-counterpoint features on hot-button issues.  It also would have aided Jemmali’s article if he had substantiated his claims better.  But, the suggestion that newspapers should pull volatile content off the opinion page is flat wrong.

I can think of no better exercise in dialogue than two writers presenting different perspectives on an issue, which is what, by printing Weismman’s article, the ODE provided.  Though she alleged Jemmali’s claims were inaccurate, she provided no evidence.  She also showed a passionate bias herself, strongly identifying with the Jewish state and admitting that she took “personal offense” at some of the comments made.

The opinion page should be a medium for intelligent discourse and dissent.  Newspapers have a responsibility to make sure there is factual accuracy in their content, but just because a writer shows bias or aggression or writes in an inflammatory way doesn’ t mean their voice should be removed.  If we abandon hot-button issues and strong opinions in editorial journalism, we gut its most fundamental components.  Then, what’s the point of having an opinion page at all?



4 Responses to “Reader Hammers ODE for Printing “Biased” Column”

  1. Matt Petryni says:

    Excellent points, Dan. I totally agree. I don’t think Jemmali’s most recent guest commentary was the best reader submission we’ve run all year, by any means, but when people question his very right to submit it I get a little irritated. Weismman’s piece obviously made little sense from its very start, where she asserts that the ODE (not Jemmali) have the responsibility of making sure even the opinions of others are “unbiased.” I wish, instead of attacking the Emerald’s interest in giving voice to members of the community though their guest commentary, she had written a sophisticated and effective response to those views of Jemmali’s she disagrees with. Further, I beg Weismman to demonstrate what an “unbiased opinion” might look like, as it seems a complete contradiction in terms.

    We could run only opinions agreeing with Jemmali’s view, if we wanted, and there would frankly be no problem with it, as surely another outlet might provide readers with the opposing argument, their right as a free press. I think the Emerald, though, chooses not to do so because I think we feel it advances a more productive conversation and expands readership to feature well-informed and reasoned arguments from both sides. But this should remain an institutional choice, and by no means should the paper feel obligated to do so beyond the personal volition of its leadership.

    I also enjoyed the chosen headline, “Emerald should run unbiased opinions.” I hear some Kaitlin Kenny in those five words’ ability to expose this letter for the nonsense it was.

  2. Matt Petryni says:

    Also: we did try point-counterpoint last year and on a couple occasions earlier this year, but it never seemed to stick. We’ve struggled in the past trying to staff a diverse opinion desk while still being able to ensure columnists are competent and well-informed. Maybe next year a more targeted recruitment effort, (which to Robert’s credit, he’s now doing) will result in a opinion desk of greater ideological diversity that, while still proficient writers and researchers, can provide the readership with a richer conversation.

  3. Dan says:

    Yeah, I think you really hit the nail on the head with the oxymoron that is “unbiased opinion.” And it’s true that the Emerald gave her a format to provide exactly what she felt was missing: a cogent, factually accurate rebuttal to Jemmali’s claims. Instead, she chose to argue for censorship on the op-ed page.

    I’m a big advocate for the editorial page including all viewpoints, especially those that may be unpopular or radical. That’s what it’s there for. If people are offended by a column, they should write in and dispute its veracity. Arguing for censorship on hot-button ideas is something I just can’t tolerate.

  4. I thought the most striking part was the juxtaposition of her censuring “an article laced with unsupported judgment” and then proclaiming that Jimmy Carter had “truthfully anti-Semitic beliefs.”

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