October 3 2018 —
A recent column published in the Calgary Herald garnered a barrage of criticism across the city and on social media. The piece, written by columnist Naomi Lakritz and titled “Kavanaugh doesn’t deserve this. What happened in high school stays in high school,” sparked outrage on social media, with companies pulling their advertisements, readers threatening to cancel their subscriptions and a number of direct responses to the Herald.
If you haven’t read the column yet — which honestly, you shouldn’t, as it would give the story more hits than it’s already received — it can briefly be summarized as this: sexual assault doesn’t count if it happens in high school.
The same column also equated the #MeToo movement to the Salem witch trials. The former, a movement whose main beneficiary is women who have suffered at the hands of men in positions of power. The latter, a series of murders against women at the hands of men in positions of power.
Regardless of your viewpoint on the current controversy surrounding the United States Supreme Court justice appointment, dismissing sexual assault on the basis of “what happens in high school stays in high school” is a reprehensible take.
In opinions sections of news publications, differences exist between op-eds, columns, letters and editorials in how their content is edited and supported by the publication itself. Usually, the united stance of the actual editorial board is expressed in editorials. The opinions expressed in op-eds, columns and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of an editorial board, nor should they.
However, anything that a newspaper publishes must, at a minimum, meet a threshold to be allowed to enter the discourse.
The column by Lakritz should not have met this minimum. Its headline alone should not have made it past the first read.
It takes maturity and tact to edit something that you don’t necessarily agree with and still be cognizant that it is an opinion that has merit to be published. It takes good judgement, however, to realize whether or not a position is worth being provided a platform.
Publishing Lakritz’ column demonstrates a concerning lack of judgement on the Herald’s part. An opinion that dismisses sexual abuse as “something dumb you may or may not have been involved with in high school” is unacceptable and not an opinion we believe has worth in being aired.
Of course, the Herald is free to publish what it sees fit. Just as we are free to publish this editorial criticizing the publication for providing a platform to a rape apologist. A free and open press is a cornerstone of democratic societies.
But being free to express an opinion does not mean you are obligated to provide a platform for every opinion — though we do commend the pursuit of meaningful discourse. Likewise, being free to express an opinion is not a shield against criticism for said opinion.
Though it’s encouraging to see the widespread condemnation of Lakritz’ column, it’s frustrating that the take expressed in the column still constitutes as meaningful discourse. The article is damaging to survivors of sexual violence, whose experiences may have been invalidated by the piece.
In response to the widespread condemnation for publishing Lakritz’ column, the Herald wrote an editorial affirming that they did not agree with the column’s position, though they defended publishing the article on the basis of “open debate, vigorous dialogue and free speech.”
Which is an ironic spin, especially following the deletion of critical comments on the publication’s social media pages — chalked up to, of course, technical difficulties — but that’s beside the point.
Having a “vigorous dialogue” about whether sexual assault is ever permissible is not a discussion we believe has merit.
The answer to that is ‘no.’ Close debate.
— Derek Baker, Gauntlet Editorial Board