November 19, 2002

Untruth in advertising

Recently, the Maroon has received a great deal of criticism for our decision to print, in both issues from last week, a paid advertisement from a website known as campustruth.org, which presented a biased and hateful view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Quite frankly, our decision to accept the advertisement was mistaken, and we feel that we owe our readers an explanation and apology.

Needless to say, the editorial board of the Maroon does not agree with the particular viewpoint printed in the ad, and if it were solely a matter of our editorial judgment, it would never have appeared in the Maroon. Unfortunately, brooking the confluence of editorial judgment and advertising policy is not such a simple matter. As an independent organization, we rely on advertising revenue to keep our paper financially solvent. This leads newspapers, as a matter of principle, to draw a distinction between our editorial content and our advertising content. Such a principle, ironically, exists not because of the situations that inspire great controversy, but rather for the mundane cases; we do not want our decision to print an advertisement for a movie, for example, to be construed as our endorsement of that movie. Advertisements that reflect a particularly disagreeable viewpoint, or that are couched in particularly inflammatory terms, present a challenge to this principle. We do not want our paper to become a forum for hate speech, and yet as a matter of principle we are also obliged to abstract our judgment from the content of advertising. Moreover, as an institution that cherishes freedom of speech, we have a natural inclination to present as many different views as we can; indeed, we have every reason to avoid censoring speech merely because we happen to find it repugnant, as we did in this case.

Nevertheless, we have decided to cease printing the series of advertisements given to us by campustruth.org. We have received a great deal of feedback - some of it petty and intimidating, much more of it helpful and constructive - that has shown us just how offended our readership was by the publication of these advertisements. Quite simply, we value our readers too much to distribute 11,500 copies of a flyer for hate speech on this campus. Again, while we take no responsibility for the content of a paid advertisement, and hope that our readers understand that it is not a reflection of our institutional judgment, we offer our sincerest apologies to those offended by the advertisement.

We would like to thank the Muslim Students Association for their constructive dialogue on this topic. We hope to carry on with them, and with every one of our readers, a constructive debate about the issues raised by this advertisement and our role in disseminating information and opinions to the university community.