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Why I Oppose the Inquirer Boycott

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There's a new controversy here in Philadelphia. It seems that our once-great newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer (aka the "Inky"), has hired John Yoo as a regular columnist. Yoo is, of course, one of the architects of the Bush administration's pro-torture policy and a supporter of warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens and the unitary executive theory. In other words, Yoo is an anti-law kind of lawyer. In his Attytood blog on Monday, Will Bunch of the Inky's sister paper, the Philadelphia Daily News, expressed his displeasure with the move:
"[W]hile promoting public discourse is a goal of newspaper commentary, it should not be the main objective. The higher calling for an American newspaper should be promoting and maintaining our sometimes fragile democracy, the very thing that Yoo and his band of torture advocates very nearly shredded in a few short years. Quite simply, by handing Yoo a regularly scheduled platform for his viewpoint, the Inquirer is telling its readers that Yoo's ideas -- especially that torture is not a crime against the very essence of America -- are acceptable."
Bunch makes a good point. Others, too, have jumped on the anti-Inky bandwagon and have called for a boycott of the paper. But I'm not sure I agree with them. Yes, I cringe at the thought of my local newspaper paying someone like Yoo to litter its pages with his misguided viewpoints, just as I cringed when the Inky made a similar deal with Rick Santorum. But this is America, land of the free, and land of the First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. In this country, John Yoo has the right to spew his vile nonsense, and the Inky has every right to publish his distasteful content. I don't have to read Yoo's columns if I don't want to. But I might want to. Because a key to defeating one's opponents in an argument is to understand the opponent's thought processes. Hopefully Yoo's columns can provide us with some insights into the psyche of the torturer, and hopefully we can use those insights constructively to present better arguments to counter Yoo's talking points. That is where we can be truly effective. Rather than boycotting the Inky, we should read each and every one of Yoo's columns. And we should respond to each column en masse with well-reasoned and well-written letters to the editor, in great enough numbers to ensure that some will get published. For every justification for torture, we need to point out that torture is illegal and ineffective, and that our doing so risks the enhanced likelihood of our own troops and civilians being tortured in retaliation if captured by an enemy. For every justification for warrantless wiretapping, we need to stand up for the Fourth Amendment as our Founding Fathers intended. And for every justification for the Bush administration's crackdown on constitutional checks and balances, we need to defend the separation of powers that has served this country so well for more than two centuries. And we need to point out that Yoo sang a very different tune when he felt that Bill Clinton was overstepping his presidential bounds. There is no room in our legal system for double standards. We need to keep exposing Yoo as the human rights violators that he is. Now excuse me while I fire off a letter to the Inky in response to Yoo's latest column.
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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)

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We also have a right to boycott such crap. By them... by Mike Baldwin on Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 11:21:46 AM
Certainly, there is a right of free speech, and th... by Ray Smith on Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 11:37:07 AM
A rationale by any other name is a rationa... by dick overfield on Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 11:57:06 AM
By doing what you are doing you have fallen into t... by Archie on Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 3:17:41 PM
You have to look at the context.  This is a n... by Bill Samuel on Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 7:30:18 PM
Yoo should be shuned...should be left homeless in ... by William Whitten on Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 7:39:47 PM
By all means let Yoo, Cheney, et al keep talking.&... by FOIA Gras on Friday, May 15, 2009 at 1:54:07 AM
he should write his column from prison.  At t... by Judy Ramsey on Friday, May 15, 2009 at 10:49:59 AM