Many people have contacted us asking why we would cover the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church, when the church’s goal is to get as much publicity for its hateful messages as possible. Many contend that denying that publicity would be the first step to dismantling their protests.
That makes sense, and ignoring bad behavior can be a way to disarm bad behavior. It’s a strategy many of us use in our daily lives depending on the situation. And there are those who can make a difference doing just that.
The duty of the press, however, is not to ignore impropriety.
The actions of the Westboro Baptist Church – and the controversy generated around the right of free speech -- has far-reaching implications, going as far as the United States Supreme Court. This is not a case of bad schoolyard behavior. This has become a loud, emotionally charged constitutional debate.
It is our belief that this national story, made local by coming to the Inland Northwest, should be covered. As Benjamin Franklin said when faced with this same kind of editorial quandary three hundred years ago, “when men differ in opinion, both sides ought equally to have the advantage of being heard by the public; and that when Truth and Error have fair play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter." Journalists have tried to live by those words ever since, and let the people and democratic system direct how history records the resolution. (Some might say righteous Ben would roll in his grave to see how today’s press handle “stories,” but you might be surprised how eclectic the Pennsylvania Gazette was in its day; but that’s another topic.)
The actions of the Westboro Baptist Church are, in our editorial opinion, repugnant. It’s important that our local viewers and web users know what the WBC does here in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. How we cover this story is equally important. It is incumbent on us to handle it responsibly, and we’ll endeavor to do that.
We invite your responsible comments below and on our Facebook page.