Young journalists grasp meaning of First Amendment

My 26-year journalism career has led to a collection of Facebook friends who either have been, or still are, in the same line of work. Because of this, I came across a post on a friend’s Facebook page a few days ago that grabbed my attention – and the attention of some of my former co-workers, too.

My friend’s post noted that the student newspaper at Oklahoma University, the Oklahoma Daily, ran an editorial Oct. 3 titled “KKK rallies shouldn’t be allowed.” The lead paragraph reads: “A Maryland-based Ku Klux Klan group planned to rally at Gettysburg National Military Park on October 5. It’s mind-boggling that KKK groups still have the audacity and will to exist in today’s society, but what’s more surprising is the fact that they were granted a special permit to hold an event there.” The editorial goes on to say that “the KKK should not be allowed to hold rallies for a number of reasons,” including the KKK’s history of hate crimes against blacks and certain religious groups.

The editorial ends this way: “The ‘freedom of speech’ line is so abused sometimes, and it’s a poor excuse to allow this type of public behavior. The rallies are unnecessary and do no good for the community. If anything, it’s only ignominious and poorly represents our country.”

While that’s a noble sentiment, considering the odious history of the Ku Klux Klan, it’s also precisely the wrong thing these future First Amendment freedom fighters should be committing to paper and broadcasting to the world. It was that stunning lack of comprehension of what freedoms the First Amendment protects that left me flabbergasted, as it did my Oklahoma-dwelling friend and our colleagues who posted their comments about that editorial to his Facebook page.

Thankfully, the Oklahoma Daily editorial board members saw the error of their ways. On Oct. 6, three days after the original post, they penned a follow-up editorial titled “The Daily supports everyone’s right to the First Amendment” that begins thusly: “We want to apologize for Friday’s editorial. We’re sorry. The views expressed were not that of the Daily’s editorial board as a whole, and what was written strayed from what we intended the message to be. Of course we believe in the First Amendment’s power. As a news organization, we have to believe in that power. On any given day, we will defend anyone’s right to express his or her opinion, even if we do not agree with what he or she has to say. Friday was not that day. We failed to be a leader in the OU community.”

I do not have to defend what the KKK stands for, but as a journalist I have a duty to defend the right of that group’s members to assemble and speak. I’m glad to see the members of that editorial board understand that, too.

John Jarvis is the managing editor of Gateway Journalism Review.  He has worked as a writer, copy editor and editor for newspapers in Texas, Indiana and Arizona.  He is a M.S. student at SIU Carbondale.

Share our journalism