Editorial: On accountability, free speech and controversial advertising

In Editorials, Opinion

Correction: This editorial was edited on March 18, 2016 at 2:50 p.m. to clarify that the FLAME advertisement was never formally approved by the Daily Titan advertising staff and that it ran due to an oversight by the advertising staff, not any one staff member.

In recent days, the Daily Titan has come under fire for running a paid advertisement from the Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME) organization.

The advertisement questioned whether or not Muslim immigrants should be granted entrance into the United States due to their having “values antithetical to the liberal democratic principles (Americans) cherish.”

The advertisement has raised passions from Cal State Fullerton students and faculty, who said that the ad’s rhetoric amounts to “hate speech.” One email claimed that for the Daily Titan, “money is more important than my belonging, education and safety.”

We take these concerns seriously and refute the notion that the Daily Titan values money more than people.

The responses to the ad have encouraged editorial conversations about what the paper does or does not run.

In the recent past, the Daily Titan editorial staff has come under scrutiny for things like running a photo of San Bernardino shooter Sayed Rizwan Farook’s CSUF ID card. At that time, some students and faculty members claimed that the Daily Titan was purposely promoting anti-Muslim rhetoric, thereby creating a hostile atmosphere toward Muslim students.

Shortly thereafter, Daily Titan Editor-in-Chief Rudy Chinchilla met with Muslim Student Association (MSA) President Ahmad Maki to discuss the impact of the photo and the subsequent article, and both sides came to an amicable understanding.

More recently, Daily Titan advertising staff suffered the brunt of an editing error in which the paper misidentified the gender of newly elected College of Health and Human Development Board of Directors member Destiny Caro. Caro, a transgender student, identifies as a male; the paper incorrectly identified him as “she” in a photo caption.

The paper quickly moved to fix the error online, but not before advertising staff members were met by an angry, profanity-laden tirade by newly elected board member of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Liz Sanchez, who did not know that the editorial staff was in the next room over.

Daily Titan staff members met with Sanchez later that night to explain the situation, and while Sanchez left the meeting frustrated at the Daily Titan’s refusal to adhere to her “list of demands,” Chinchilla later met with and spoke to various campus faculty members, who also came to an amicable understanding of the situation.

These incidents highlight the fact that, while Daily Titan advertising and editorial staff members often work independently of one another, the decisions they make have an impact on the paper as a whole.

The Daily Titan is the premier learning laboratory on campus. And while the paper does its utmost to prevent them, as a learning laboratory, mistakes happen just as they would in “the real world.” Take a look at The New York Times: many of its articles have some sort of correction at the bottom of the story.

These mistakes, though, should not overshadow the work that the Daily Titan has for decades done for the CSUF community.

In April 2016, for example, the Daily Titan ran a story about an MSA-held Q&A in which Muslim students answered others’ questions about Islam. In April 2015, the Daily Titan ran an article about Muslim students’ need for a bigger prayer space.

The paper has covered other important issues, too. In May 2015, an article highlighted expired elevator permits, which led to the university making repairs to the elevators. In February 2016, the Daily Titan was the first media outlet to report on the death of missing CSUF international student Praveen Galla. Just last week, the Daily Titan provided live coverage of a suspicious package in McCarthy Hall.

As a staff, we strive to spotlight important issues, with the understanding that we cater to a large and diverse community.

The Daily Titan is an extension of this diversity, with advertising and editorial staff members from different backgrounds, races, religions and sexual orientations.

So how did the FLAME advertisement make it on to the paper?

The Daily Titan advertising team has a policy in which any account executive who thinks an advertisement might be controversial or otherwise objectionable brings up the issue with the Daily Titan advertising director. The FLAME ad ran due to an oversight by the advertising staff, not any particular staff member.

And while the incoming Daily Titan advertising director has committed to discussing advertisement policy changes going forward, the FLAME ad also highlights the issue of freedom of speech.

The FLAME ad is a form of speech protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and while various Daily Titan editorial members object to the content of the ad, they all agree that it is not the paper’s job to decide what is or isn’t objectionable.

The Daily Titan does not, for example, take editorial positions on most issues, as other papers often do. We only print what people or institutions are saying or doing; it is the readership’s job to react accordingly.

To that end, our readership has reacted negatively to the FLAME ad. The ad has sparked a discussion both about what the paper should run and about the immigration/Muslim issue discussed in the ad.

This is democracy at work. This is freedom of speech at work.

We cannot have these discussions without the free dissemination of ideas. Even if we oppose these differing voices, we can’t silence them.

We must listen to what others have to say. Growth and progress can be painful, but we must make an effort to advance through critical thought, not through suppression of ideas contrary to our values.

Anyone who wishes to further voice their concerns can submit a letter to the editor to [email protected] Furthermore, they can directly contact FLAME Vice President James Sinkinson at [email protected]

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