Today the new editor of the Nevada Appeal in Carson City introduced himself to his readers thusly: “I’m Brian Sandford, your new editor at the Appeal. This is my first entry in a weekly column aimed at sharing what we’re doing here and why …”
My advice to Mr. Sandford is: Keep a copy of Benjamin Franklin’s “Apology for Printers” next to your phone. You’ll need it.
I started doing so in March 2010 after a few readers expressed rather strong opinions about an editorial cartoon the Review-Journal had published. I explained in a column, “One morning this past week we received two scathing indictments of an editorial cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Ramirez. The cartoon depicted a donkey, girded with a suicide bomber vest labeled health care, shouting, ‘Obama Akbar!'”
One reader called the cartoon “the most distasteful, inflammatory, unintelligent and racist political opinion I have ever seen. I have come to accept the biased opinions and editorials from the Review-Journal, but this ‘cartoon’ should have no place in any publication …”
Another barked, “Have you no shame?”
The paper published both letters.
In my column I quoted Franklin, who wrote in 1731 in The Pennsylvania Gazette:
“Being frequently censur’d and condemn’d by different Persons for printing Things which they say ought not to be printed, I have sometimes thought it might be necessary to make a standing Apology for my self, and publish it once a Year, to be read upon all Occasions of that Nature. … I find an Apology more particularly requisite at this Juncture, tho’ it happens when I have not yet Leisure to write such a thing in the proper Form, and can only in a loose manner throw those Considerations together which should have been the Substance of it. …
“I request all who are angry with me on the Account of printing things they don’t like, calmly to consider these following Particulars …
” That the Opinions of Men are almost as various as their Faces; an Observation general enough to become a common Proverb, ‘So many Men so many Minds.'”
In replying to angry readers I would often futilely blurt: If we were only allowed to print inerrant truth, we would print nothing but Bibles or Qurans — but which one?
Which is a paraphrase of Franklin’s: “That if all Printers were determin’d not to print any thing till they were sure it would offend no body, there would be very little printed.”
Good luck and may you represent your newspaper well, Mr. Sandford.
And when the bastards yell at you, take the occasion to repeat Franklin’s paraphrase of John Milton’s “Areopagitica” in his apologia:
“Printers are educated in the Belief, that when Men differ in Opinion, both Sides ought equally to have the Advantage of being heard by the Publick; and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter: Hence they chearfully serve all contending Writers that pay them well, without regarding on which side they are of the Question in Dispute.”