Last week Jana and I attended a forum on free speech at the Heinz History Center. The event was hosted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and included a panel discussion led by the paper’s executive editor. Panelists included the rabbi from the Tree of Life Synagogue, a local imam, a Duquesne University law professor, a Rand Corporation scholar, a Post-Gazette editorial writer, and the Pennsylvania Attorney General. A packed house of 600 guests experienced a powerful, wide-ranging discussion. What are the limits of free speech in the Internet age? When does hate speech become criminal? When does censure become censorship?
As we’d approached the history center that night, we met folks handing out flyers. My first thought was that they were greeters for the event. I recognized one of the Post-Gazette writers who’d done a critical piece on me and the church five years ago. I suggested he come by the church to see what was going on today. Maybe he could see that he’d been wrong about us.
I glanced at his flyer. He wasn’t there to greet. He was picketing.
Newspapers, like churches, have been in decline for decades now. Great institutions with vital missions, gone. And the human toll has been great. Jobs lost; families disrupted.
I could feel for this writer. The flyer said he hadn’t had a new contract or a raise in years. But what to do? Hundreds of print organizations have closed, downsized, or gone to on-line only. The Post-Gazette has been trying to transform to meet these new realities.
I was struck by the irony of a reporter picketing a free speech event, one hosted by his own paper, no less.
And I realized that the writer was doing to his employer what he had done to me and the church in his critical piece years before. Instead of seeking a new way ahead, he was tearing down. Couldn’t he see how the world has changed?
Change is personal, so change makers get attacked personally.
The flyer said he was fighting for the “heart and soul” of a great paper. Really?
When we become too certain that our goals and our ways are right, we move toward conflict rather than peace. We stop listening to others, and to God.