Rare is the occasion when a newspaper’s union aligns with much of the family that owns it. But the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette helped build the odd coalition by publishing an editorial on Martin Luther King Day that suggested describing someone as a racist was in fact worse than racism itself.
Editorials are typically the result of a small cadre of middle-aged journalists—also known as the editorial board—debating the issues of the day in a quiet corner of their newspaper’s offices, secluded from the real world. That ivory tower effort is supposed to spit out a publication’s institutional stance. But the publisher, a moneyman/woman, usually has final say over that political leaning, even if they exert such power sporadically.
Publisher John R. Block, whose family owns the paper, apparently felt the need to do so with Monday’s piece, which also appeared in the Post-Gazette’s sister paper, The Toledo Blade. He really wanted to argue that those calling President Donald Trump a racist for his “shithole” comments about Haiti and African countries were at fault for derailing the immigration debate. They “have dodged the obligation to converse or build,” the piece claimed.
The year is still young, but the editorial—titled “Reason as Racism”—is an early contender for the worst editorial of 2018. It was just a step away from calling such critics the real racists:
Calling someone a racist is the new McCarthyism. The charge is pernicious. The accuser doesn’t need to prove it. It simply hangs over the accused like a great human stain.
We need to confine the word “racist” to people like Bull Connor and Dylann Roof. For if every person who speaks inelegantly, or from a position of privilege, or ignorance, or expresses an idea we dislike, or happens to be a white male, is a racist, the term is devoid of meaning.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents about 150 employees in the Post-Gazette newsroom, begged to differ in a letter submitted to the editor. Reporter Julian Routh tweeted Wednesday night that Block had nixed the newsroom’s collective response, which called the editorial “a blight on the 231 years of service the Post-Gazette has provided its readers.”
“As a matter of course,” the letter read, “the Guild does not weigh in on editorial positions, but this piece is so extraordinary in its mindless, sycophantic embrace of racist values and outright bigotry espoused by this country’s president that we would be morally, journalistically, and humanly remiss to not speak out against it.”
The Post-Gazette did publish a letter on Thursday signed by 16 other members of the family that runs the paper’s parent company, Block Communications. “We do not condone the whitewashing of racism, nor the normalization of it,” they wrote.
Not included among the signatories were Board Chairman Allan Block and Board Member William Block Jr.—namesake of the late family patriarch—in addition to Post-Gazette Publisher John R. Block.
The next Block holiday gathering will no doubt be a joy. Maybe the 16 other family members should break off and party with the union.