On Friday, the Chicago Reader published a column by Mitchel Miner titled “Let Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell write what she thinks about rape.” In the column, Miner wrote that while he disagreed with Mitchell’s views, “Mitchell has been a Sun-Times columnist more than 20 years and long ago earned the right to be wrong. Actually, it’s a right that comes with the job. A columnist without strong convictions is a bore and won’t keep the column. A columnist who writes out of his or her strong convictions will pay the price every once in a while by sounding like an idiot.”
This is not an issue of Mitchell “sounding like an idiot” nor would the Times have been “silencing” Mitchell, as Miner argues, had they decided not to run her column. (Speaking of ‘silencing,’ it should be noted that the Sun-Times has never published a letter by a sex worker).
Supporting free speech in the press involves preserving space for legitimate, controversial beliefs. That a marginalized minority cannot be raped and should not have equal access to the criminal justice system is not a legitimate, controversial belief–it’s a hateful, discriminatory viewpoint that bears a striking resemblance to columns that legitimized racial and gender discrimination decades before.
The first amendment is threatened if someone faces criminal repercussions for expressing their views. It is not threatened by leaving a highly problematic column by an editorial board member unpublished. Every week, thousands of letters and op-eds submitted to the Sun-Times go unpublished.
Free speech is free. Paid speech can (and should) be censured. Mitchell, as a staff columnist and member of the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board, is a representative of a major paper. In giving a salary and long-term public platform to Mitchell, the Sun-Times tacitly endorses the validity of her viewpoints, including the viewpoint expressed in her September 13th column. This–a major newspaper implicitly suggesting that a bigoted belief is valid–is problematic to me. And frankly, I question whether someone who publicly stated that an entire class of people should be denied access to the criminal justice system should continue to have a public platform and continue to serve on the editorial board of a major newspaper.
Communications Director – Sex Workers Outreach Project