Racially insensitive editorial from Post-Gazette receives backlash

By Rachel Pierce | Staff Columnist


Imagine an editorial so offensive, the editor’s own family, friends and coworkers publicly criticize their work. This editorial was published right here in Pittsburgh.

On Jan. 15, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board published an article titled “Reason as racism.” It opens by explaining that today’s McCarthyism is calling someone a racist. In other words, we are quick to accuse people of racism without evidence. Additionally, accusers are protected from an accusation themselves. It is argued that “calling the president a racist helps no one.” True, nobody will instantly and personally benefit from calling the president a racist.

The editorial goes on to say, “So what?” if the president referred to Haiti and African nations as “s***hole” countries.

Our standards are weakening; we are, in a sense, brainwashed by the news. We are numbed and losing touch with what is presidential. Journalists cannot reduce their work to the, “So what.” Journalism is to investigate the questionable and never settle.

The article closes with the conclusion that “We have to stop calling each other names.” Wouldn’t calling other nations a “s***hole” be name calling?

In response, The Incline wrote an extensive piece detailing the ripple effects of the editorial. Two letters to the editor were sent to the Post-Gazette, but neither will be published. One was written by over 150 Post Gazette newsroom employees, and the second one was sent from two dozen previous employees of the Post Gazette. Editor-In-Chief John R. Block decided not to publish the letters, which only infuriated tensions. According to The Incline, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh cited the editorial as a “blight on the 231 years of service the Post-Gazette has provided its readers,” including its long fight against racism and for civil rights.

As for the ties to civil rights, the timing of the article adds an additional dimension. Its publication on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was seen as deliberate, although the Post Gazette denies this accusation.

The Post-Gazette made a few mistakes surrounding this editorial. First, the piece was racially insensitive. The editors also seemingly forgot the goal of journalism; to expose the questionable and always investigate the truth. Lastly, the decision to not publish letters to the editor fueled the growing frustration of ignorance.

It is intimidating to critique a highly respected newspaper. As a college journalist, it doesn’t feel like my place. At the same time, it doesn’t take an established journalist to see racism and ignorance. Journalists are simply the voice of the people.

Apart from the obvious ignorance and racism, the Post-Gazette has lost touch of the purpose of journalism. This editorial does not reflect the purpose of American journalism. Within the government, we have the three branches that check the power of one another so one branch does not overpower the others. But who checks government as a whole? Journalists check the power of the government and keep them in line.

Yes, journalists are entitled to their own opinion, whatever that may be. But to say, “So what?” to blatant racism in our government is to lose touch with the essence of journalism. The article encourages readers to look the other way, to disregard the president’s racist comments. To dismiss and ignore criticism is to lose touch with free speech and drive one opinion. The Professional Journalist Code of Ethics says that journalist should expose “questionable behavior,” even if it means within journalism. Journalism is finding the truth, and the truth cannot be found by forcing one view.

The damage is done, as for now the Post-Gazette can only hope that the community moves on from this piece as easily as our nation seems to move on from other “questionable behavior.”