June 22nd, 2014
01:13 PM ET

Newspaper editor on why he dropped George Will's column

Above, Brian Stelter interviews Tony Messenger of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the newspaper's decision to stop running George Will's column.


STELTER: This week, you told readers that you were thinking 

about pulling the plug for several months, but Will's column about sexual assault made the decision easier. Why is that? 

MESSENGER: Well, the reaction we had from readers, particularly from women, so many of them were so deeply offended that they could be called - that George Will told them that they were trying to somehow seek a special status, that they were trying to seek some privileged status because of their alleged sexual assault. 

 It just - we had a lot of readers very angry and very hurt. And it caused us to go back and take a look at it, and it reinforced our previous decision, that he had lost a little bit of speed off his fastball, and it just caused us to make the decision a little bit more quickly than we would have otherwise. 

STELTER: You even apologized for running the column in the first place. That must be pretty rare.

MESSENGER: I don't know that it's ever happened before. It might have. 

It hasn't happened in my tenure here as the editorial page editor. And the reason for that was, we did run it. And so our reaction to it, going back and taking a look and realizing that there was a lot of offensive imagery in that that victimized women, we had to take responsibility for that. We published it. We wish we wouldn't have. 

STELTER: Let me read what the op-ed editor at "The Washington Post" wrote in response to some of the criticisms. 

He said: "George Will's columns was well within the bounds of legitimate debate." And then he went on to say: "Rather than urge me to silence a viewpoint they disagree with, I would urge others also to join the debate and to do so without mischaracterizing the original column." 

Is that what you're doing by dropping the column? Are you silencing a viewpoint that you don't want to have heard?

MESSENGER: Well, if we were purely dropping the column because of that one particular offensive element, then, sure, that would be a fair criticism of us.

But the fact is, we're - the element of that column that caused us to drop it was that we found it very offensive to many of our readers. And that's well within our rights on an editorial page, is to decide what sort of debate, what level of civility, what level of treatment of women who are sexual assault victims we're going to allow on our page.

STELTER: Can you understand why some people though are saying it's intolerant to be dropping the column? 

MESSENGER: Oh, absolutely. And that's unfortunately the nature of political debate today. 

A lot of the responses that were negative to our decision accused us of doing so for political correctness. That's not the case. We believe that the column trivializes sexual assault victims. We believe it trivializes very serious attempts on campuses to deal with the scourge of sexual assault. 

It's a topic that we have written about on our editorial page a lot and I'm comfortable with our interpretation of what Mr. Will wrote.

Filed under: Reliable Sources
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