Opinions, in their very essence, are divisive and we have no shortage of that in this country or this university. America is arguably more polarized than at any point in any living person’s time as polarized coalitions feud with no foreseeable compromises. When the Branding Iron ran staff writer Jeremy Rowley’s column on 9/11, it became immediately clear that many people were outraged to the point of inconsolable anger and in some cases, violent threats. We, at this university institution, do not have a collective position on whether Rowley’s opinion was accurate or applicable, but we do feel it is important to clarify our position on the First Amendment.
First, I feel the need to clarify the difference between an editorial and an opinion piece: an editorial is generally written by or on the behalf of an editor, implying the opinion expressed is a position of the paper, while an opinion piece is the opinion of one writer. Rowley’s piece was mistakenly labeled an editorial by some, but please understand that Rowley is not an editor at the Branding Iron; he is a writer and his point of view does not represent the Branding Iron as a whole.
Free press and speech are so vital to the function of a working representative democracy that Thomas Jefferson even said our freedom depends on it. What freedom is cannot be easily or accurately defined; doing so is futile in logical terms and probably better left to poets. Our decision to run Rowley’s opinion piece was less an attempt to “stir the pot” and more a matter of intentionally resisting censoring ourselves. Rowley chose the topic and determined all the content independently and as such, it would have seemed less ethical as a journalistic publication in the free press to not run with the article-no matter who it offended.
Certainly, there are opinions we would not entertain as there is a line where an issue is relevant to our modern discourse. Slavery was brought up as a comparative issue in comment threads, but there really is no comparison. Rowley’s topic is relevant to a generation of people who were children at the time of the 9//11 attacks and perhaps do not remember it in the same way older demographics do. This does not make anyone right or wrong, but the fact Rowley said what he said and garnered a response demonstrates the conversation is alive and needs to be had.
At the Branding Iron, we feel a contesting discourse is inevitable with any issue that affects our readership, but that arguments are crucial to finding a middle ground. While the divisiveness in our time leaves your Editor-in-chief questioning if the world’s best years are behind us, or in retrospect, given the injustices faced by so many victims in history, if there were ever “best years,” I know if we do not talk through our disagreements, we are destined to become secluded in respective camps where we learn less and hate our fellow humans more. Let us use the opportunity to have difficult conversations to educate one another from our deepest differences.