Let’s begin with the reason I am writing this nearly a month after a controversial editorial appeared in the Valley Gazette. It’s because in last week’s Gazette (Apr.28), it published an apology for incorrectly identifying someone in an article published the previous week. In fact, the words “We apologize” were used. It referenced the date and page number of the original article, and specified both the correct and incorrect names used. That’s evidence that when it chooses to, the Gazette can issue a genuine apology in a timely fashion. By way of contrast, consider how it dealt with the infamous, anonymous editorial it published on April 7.
That unattributed editorial expressed hate toward a number of groups but most blatantly towards LGBTQ people. I could only imagine how much it hurt the LGBTQ folks in our community (or their parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, colleagues and friends for that matter) when they read the editorialist’s view that LGBTQ people could not lead “happy, productive or civic-minded” lives.
The piece entitled “It’s for your own good!” warned readers that groups claiming to “hate hate” like “radical feminists, LGBTQ radicals and Marxists like Antifa” actually promote hatred and “Christianity is the primary object.” I was not alone in noting that this editorial appeared only three days after The Current had reported about an article published Apr.1 by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN). Since the CAHN article drew attention to links with three ultra-right conservative groups with a presence here in the Madawaska Valley, it was understandably assumed that the anonymous editorial was a reaction, not a coincidence. If so, the author should have had the courage to say so, and provide his/her name — as the CAHN author had done.
An anonymous editorial that makes outrageous and hateful comments which, according to guidelines published by the Human Rights Commission of Ontario, might qualify as a hate incident is a serious matter for a publisher, so I waited for the following week’s Gazette to see if any letters to the editor, a retraction, and an apology would appear. There was nothing. By that time, I had read a number of complaints on social media and also had learned that some residents had complained to the Gazette’s publisher or reached out to some of the writers. Some of them were told that their letter would be printed. However, no letters or reactions appeared.
The “apology” that dare not speak its name
Two weeks later a notice turned up in the Gazette addressed to “Dear valued readers, subscribers and advertisers.” It “sincerely” offered “regret for any discomfort or offence caused,” and it also stated that some “remarks made were derogatory and disrespectful and for that we are deeply sorry.”
Strangely, however, it did not provide any information about the subject matter of the “recent editorial” to which it referred or even its date of publication — a fundamental requirement for a genuine apology from a media outlet. Anybody reading it might have been hard pressed to understand what it related to. I understand some residents wondered if the subsequent editorial on April 14 about the late Prince Philip had offended some readers.
The notice did not express regret for having written and published the piece. Instead, there was regret expressed for any discomfort or offence caused, but an acknowledgement of responsibility is a key element of an effective apology. Surely as a minimum an unequivocal apology (using the word “apology”) should have been made to the targets of the unidentified author.