“As to the evil which results from censorship, it is impossible
to measure it, because it is impossible to tell where it ends.”
– Jeremy Bentham
Who should decide what the
Western Herald prints? If the Bertha Capen Reynolds Society had
its way, it would be the sole arbiter of what is and is not politically
correct for the Herald to print.
This week the BCRS will hold
a protest against the Herald’s continued publication of ads for
Deja Vu, and will meet with the Herald board in an attempt to
convince the board to stop publishing these ads. Anyone who believes Western
Michigan University needs an independent newspaper must oppose these efforts
The Herald is more than just
a newspaper – it is the only news source and public forum most students
have for information on WMU. No other newspaper or television news program
covers events at WMU with the depth and consistency that the Herald
As such, the Herald
is a prime target for those who would like the paper to reflect their
narrow beliefs rather than the wide range of opinion represented on a
campus as large as WMU.
If they succeed in eliminating
a viewpoint from the Herald, they succeed in virtually eliminating
it for the entire student body.
This has dangerous implications
which the BCRS has not fully considered. They believe the way Deja Vu
depicts women is offensive. Many students on this campus, however, believe
positive images of gays and lesbians are offensive, and several of them
wrote in recently to voice their displeasure at the Herald’s coverage
of gay and lesbian student activities.
What is to stop these students
from demanding the Herald stop covering gay and lesbian events?
If the Herald board is willing
to get rid of Deja Vu ads because they offend the BCRS, how would it defend
itself if other student groups demanded that stories and ads featuring
gays and lesbians be removed because they are offensive?
Speech that people find offensive
is exactly the kind of speech that needs special protection.
Non-controversial speech and
non-offensive speech need no protection – no one will show up at Herald
board meetings to ask that ads for financial aid stop running.
It is only when speech is
potentially offensive that one person or another will stand up to ask
that it be censored.
If a newspaper acquiesces
to demands, however, it will soon find itself in a precarious position,
because almost all speech is potentially offensive to someone.
Imagine trying to produce a
newspaper that would never offend any of the thousands of WMU students,
each with their own interests and political and religious beliefs. It
would be impossible.
This should be readily apparent
to a group such as the BCRS, which claims to be acting on behalf of women’s
interests. Historically, women have been victimized by policies that kept
issues important to women outside of traditional forums.
Feminists fought to get their
viewpoints included in traditional media, while the BCRS’ efforts represent
the failed ideas that kept women silent for centuries.
At this point some members
of BCRS offer what they think is a way out – Deja Vu engages in “pornographic”
speech, and this causes violence against women.
Deja Vu ads, then, constitute
a special category that causes harm to women. Unfortunately there isn’t
a shred of evidence to back up the claim that “pornographic”
speech causes any harm to women.
No researcher has been able
to find this mythical causal link between “pornography” and
violence, because it simply doesn’t exist.
In her book, Sex and Sensibility:
Reflections on Forbidden Mirrors and the Will to Censor, Marcia Pally
concludes her exhaustive look at studies into the relationship between
“pornography” and violence by noting there is no credible evidence
linking the two.
It’s not surprising most of
the “feminists” advocating censorship of sexually suggestive
speech usually draw on resources such as the Meese Pornography Commission’s
It’s the height of irony that
purportedly progressive advocates find themselves in bed with the most
reactionary element of the Reagan administration.
Of course two female members
of the Meese Commission, Judith Becker and Ellen Levine, became its sharpest
critics and strongly dissented from the commission’s conclusion that “pornography”
contributed to violence.
Without a link between “pornography”
and violence, all the BCRS has left is to ask the Herald to enshrine
its particular interpretation of Deja Vu and its ads into Herald
Reasonable people, however,
can and do disagree about this interpretation. If the Herald
allows specific ideological judgments about events to govern its editorial
policy, it will be in serious trouble indeed.