Monday, July 22, 2013

Banning Cover Photo Doesn't Solve Problem

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, July 21, 2013.

By Bill Gouveia

            Imagine for just a moment you are on a leisurely stroll to your local drugstore to fill your prescription and pick up your beloved daily issue of The Sun Chronicle.  You are looking forward to catching up on the events of the area and the world, and naturally reading the latest offering from your favorite columnist.

            But when you get there, you discover that day’s newspaper has been pulled from store shelves.  When you inquire as to why, you are told management of the private business didn’t like the front page and exercised its legitimate right to simply refuse to sell it.

            So maybe you walk to a different store.  Perhaps you go home and read it online.  Or maybe you just decide to take a break and not read the newspaper that day.  No matter what, your life is not greatly affected and no harm is done to anyone, right?

            Wrong – oh so very wrong.

            When a large number of retail stores and chains made the decision to pull Rolling Stone magazine from their shelves because they thought the cover photo of the accused Boston Marathon bomber was too “glamorous”, they substituted their judgment for that of their customers.  They decided it was not enough to let consumers reject the magazine should they choose to, they assumed that choice should be theirs as retail outlets. 

            They also made what was probably a shrewd and sound business decision.  By publicly banning the controversial issue from their shelves, they endeared themselves to a large segment of the population.  It was an apparently irresistible opportunity to cash in on the notoriety of the photo, then resume selling the magazine next month and no doubt pick up some extra customers along the way.  It probably made them some money – and there is nothing wrong with that.

            Many people have praised the integrity of these stores for not allowing this “trashy journalism” in their establishments.  That praise rings pretty hollow however, when you look at the other publications they readily display on their shelves and near their checkout stands in hopes you will spend your money on them.

            Take a glance at some of those front pages.  “Kate’s Baby Really an Extraterrestrial”, “Obama’s Love Child Speaks Out”, and “Dick Cheney Really a Robot” (I kind of liked that one) were some of the more memorable ones I have seen in some of these businesses.  Apparently they meet management’s lofty standards for journalistic integrity and don’t offend any sizeable portions of the population.

            The bombing is a very emotional topic, and it is easy to understand how tempers may be running high and tolerance levels low.  The victims and their families are foremost in the minds of everyone, and there have been countless stories and photos celebrating the courage, heroism and just pure emotion of that awful event.

            But there also has to be a place in our country and our society for some type of objective, rational and reasonable study of what happened, who did it, and why.  That is a painful and distasteful process, and not one many wish to become involved in performing.  But that does not diminish the need to do it.

            Why can’t we just honestly disagree in America anymore?  The collective mindset both in government and society seems to be that opposing views and the people who espouse them must be destroyed rather than debated.  We can’t just refuse to buy the magazine we don’t like, we have to ban it or burn it.  We can’t just support the candidate of our choice, we have to discredit and disparage the opponent.

            Willingness to discuss and learn is not a weakness.  We cannot hide the fact that monsters sometimes look like rock stars by simply hiding all their pictures.  Attempting to understand evil and how it is created is neither an endorsement of that evil nor a condemnation of its victims. 

            So to those who are celebrating the unavailability of Rolling Stone in their local stores, just remember – praising people for limiting your choice is a dangerous thing.  If that becomes the norm, you might soon find only the issues of The Sun Chronicle those who own the store shelves think you should see.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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