Jun 5 2001

Boston Globe’s Continued Hypocrisy on Free Speech

FAIR sent out an action alert on April 9 asking readers to contact the Boston Globe about the paper’s apparent hypocrisy. The Globe had written an editorial (3/20/01) upholding the free-speech right of right-wing activist David Horowitz to place a racist ad in campus newspapers attacking the idea of slavery reparations. The paper told student editors and campus activists: “Far more dangerous than offensive ideas is their censorship,because censorship knows no ideology and will eventually muzzle the views of the minorities as well.”

But as columnists Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman pointed out (“Focus on the Corporation,” 4/3/01), the Globe itself recently refused to publish an ad critical of the Staples office supply chain for using paper made from old-growth forests. The environmental group that wanted to place the ad, Forest Ethics, says it was told that the paper would not print an ad that criticized Staples, a major Boston-based company, by name. The paper told Mokhiber and Weissman that it was uncomfortable with the way the group expressed its views.

Hundreds of activists sent messages to Boston Globe ombudsman Jack Thomas, asking him to explain why his paper lectures student journalists about the need to print any ad, no matter how offensive, while censoring an ad that might hurt its commercial interests. The response from Thomas: total silence.

Now the Globe is scolding students again about their insufficient regard for the free speech rights of advertisers. On May 30, the paper ran an op-ed by regular columnist Cathy Young taking campus feminists to task for their protests against an ad from the right-wing Independent Women’s Forum, explicitly inspired by the Horowitz ad, that was published in UCLA’s paper.

Some students at the school criticized the paper for running the ad, which claims to debunk “feminist myths” while referring to campus feminism as “a kind of cult” promoted by “factually challenged professors.” While Young, whose own work was cited in the ad, described it as “factually impeccable,” much of the ad’s content is deeply misleading.

For example, it asserts that it’s a myth that “one in four women in college has been the victim of rape or attempted rape”–a statistic based on a National Institute of Mental Health study of sexual assaults from age 14. (See Extra!, 11-12/93, 11-12/00.) The ad counterposes this with the number of rapes that happen on campus and are reported to campus police–obviously a fraction of all the rapes and attempted rapes college-aged women have ever experienced.

Accusing the UCLA students of disdaining “intellectual openness,” Young wrote that “esteem for freedom of expression seems to be in equally short supply.” She said that other student paper’s decisions whether or not to run the ad would be an “important test” of whether the “free exchange of ideas” is imperiled.

Of course, one could argue that student papers ought to publish such intentionally provocative ads–if only to prevent the advertisers from achieving the free-speech martyrdom that they crave. But the Boston Globe op-ed page is hardly the appropriate place for campus editors to receive lessons on the “free exchange of ideas”–not when the paper hasn’t explained why it doesn’t seem to practice the openness to uncomfortable advertisements that its editorials and op-ed writers preach.

ACTION: Please contact Boston Globe ombudsman Jack Thomas and remind him that he has never addressed the hundreds of questions he has received about his paper’s apparent double standard regarding advertising acceptance. You might also contact Globe editor Matthew Storin and ask him to ensure that the ombudsman does his job of responding to complaints from the public.


Matthew V. Storin, Editor



Jack Thomas, Ombudsman