Do you know where the “Independent” in the name of this newspaper comes from? In the late 1800s, there were three newspapers in Aitkin: the Aitkin Age, the Aitkin Independent, and the Aitkin Republican. Eventually the Independent and the Age combined into the Independent Age. So the “Independent” was there originally to distinguish the paper’s political position from that of the Republican.

At that time, news media made no pretext of “journalistic objectivity,” but openly wrote their stories from a certain stated standpoint. Readers could thus compare different papers’ takes on events or stick with the one with which they agreed. Later, the concept of journalistic objectivity, reporting the facts without opinion, became standard practice, and that is what we try for now at the Independent Age. While we do print releases from political offices, the policy is not to include any editorializing outside direct quotations. For example, in an article announcing Stewart Mills’ second run for Congress, we changed the sentence, “[Mills] understands that Minnesota cannot continue with the current representation …” to “[Mills] believes that Minnesota cannot continue …” We may not always catch every instance of subjectivity but that is the goal.

The exception, of course, is opinion page columns like this one, where writers are speaking just for themselves, not the paper, allowing all kinds of ideas to be argued for. Opinionated discourse is a good thing, allowing debate to forge a path toward, hopefully, the truth; as long as it’s clear it’s coming from a certain viewpoint and there’s not one-sided censorship.

These two problems, however, are prevalent in much of public discourse. As I mentioned in an earlier column, after the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, some newspapers declared they would print no columns or letters criticizing it. In New York City, the manual on enforcing the non-discrimination law dictates that one can be fined $250,000 for referring to a “transgender” person by their actual biological sex, even in a private conversation not involving that person. Many colleges, which should cultivate nonconformity of thought, are imposing speech codes, making hurting someone’s feelings by disagreeing with them an expellable offense.

The Internet provides an alternative to mainstream media but there are efforts to censor that too, with Twitter’s Orwellianly-named Trust and Safety Council banning conservative journalists like Robert Stacy McCain and Facebook in Europe making a commitment to deleting all negative posts about Syrian migrants. Since these are private corporations, this is perfectly legal, but it rather goes against their stated goals of supporting free speech. All over the Internet, so-called “social justice warriors” strive to end the career of anyone sinning against political correctness. Examples include Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, who was pressured into resigning over a joke; and scientist Matt Taylor, who, on the day he helped land the Rosetta probe on a comet, was attacked relentlessly for the shirt he was wearing.

The overwhelming idea is that positions contrary to progressive feminism, multiculturalism, LGBT activism and gender ideology are not only wrong, but that any expression thereof must be forbidden. The epithets of misogynist, racist, homophobe are hurled so frequently that, like in The Boy who Cried Wolf, real bigotry may pass under the radar.

As this kind of ideological conformity spreads, I am grateful to be part of a publication that still strives for objectivity in its reporting and allows freedom of speech in its editorials. May it long keep its independence.

(1) comment


Ms. MacArthur makes a good point or two, particularly regarding the (often self-righteously self-imposed) Big Brother on Campus rules for gender-neutral language and the resulting absurdities (" 'E brushed 'r teeth, then feeling quite proud of humself 'e put 's toothbrush back in 's place in the cupholder..."). But like most insular free-thinking communities, campuses have no immunization against stupidity as any thinking person knows who's spent a semester or two within the cloistered walls.

And the Europeans, being faced with a refugee onslaught approaching two million that combined with a less-than-enviable history that many can still recall, sometimes try to kill a fly with a hammer with their autocratic EU rule-making. In my day in Germany I naively volunteered to help resettle Eritrean refugees allotted to our little village (every locale got/gets an allotment to deal with). As a "furriner" myself I soon found my attempts at service in the public interest to be the point of ridicule.

Nowadays the accounts I've read of how average small towns in the most sought out country of Germany are coping (or not) with the influx, and following the Nov. attacks in Paris bolstered by our own event in San Bernadino, laws prohibiting less than kindly and ill-thought-out social media rhetoric is a statutory reaction with historical precedent there even more than here. Such laws, a holdover from the lessons of the last Reich, aren't new. E.g., it was and still is illegal to print, distribute or even possess Adolf's "Mein Kampf"; although how that's still being enforced in the Net age I can't say. Of course such statutes are ill advised since the "forbidden fruit" syndrome is the end result, but that's how they roll over there, and how things like marijuana prohibition works so well here!

Back to the point, Ms. MacArthur would (yet again) do well to check facts before she says, " the manual on enforcing the non-discrimination law dictates that one can be fined $250,000 for referring to a “transgender” person by their actual biological sex, even in a private conversation not involving that person." It's to be expected that Ms. MacArthur chooses a few fringe conservative sources that opined that theoretically one could be fined $250,000. Fined, yes, draconian amounts? Not really unless one was attempting to openly deride or humiliate.

An example might be for refusing to refer to, say, Kaitlyn Jenner as "she"/"her" in defiance of her gender, particularly when doing so personally and hostilely -- this is akin to using the racial epithet "n" word that's also statutorily punishable. The most extreme case of open and repeated derision could result in a fine of $250,000. But levied mistakenly? Not likely and not enforceable statutorily. Neo-cons don't like it, but both Fact Check and Snopes have shown Ms. MacArthur's assertions and conclusion to be false and/or extreme.

Second, there is no "manual". There is a law, NYS human rights statue 466.13 that defines both offenses and terminology. Check it out and then get back to us, Ms. MacArthur, after doing a bit more balanced analysis and homework.

J. P.

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