Here are the pictures that Tennessean publisher Craig Moon didn’t want you to see. The drawings of a partial-birth abortion were part of a Right to Life advertisement that Moon found offensive. Since Moon controls advertising for both The Tennessean and the Banner, the publisher’s decision barred the ad from both Nashville dailies.
Moon initially agreed to print the advertisement if the five drawings were blacked out, according to Brian Harris, president of Right to Life Nashville. Harris resubmitted the ad with the word “censored” covering each drawing, but the captions remained. Harris said that Moon, after seeing the censored version, again refused to publish the ad and would not return Harris’ repeated telephone calls.
“We finally gave up,” Harris said, “and decided to give them the ad without the drawings, the captions, or any mention that the ad had been censored.” The Tennessean eventually printed the watered-down version, not in the news sections as Harris had asked, but on the “Entertainment” page.
Moon told the Scene that he never agreed to run the ad, with or without the drawings, and that it is the publisher’s prerogative to decide what advertisements to print. He declined to explain why he wouldn’t publish the ad even after the sponsors had agreed to black out the drawings.
The ads and the drawings have recently been published across the country in papers such as The New York Times and Washington Post. Other papers, even The Review Appeal in Franklin, Tenn., printed the Right to Life ads with the word “censored” covering the drawings.
Meanwhile, Tennessean editorial writers last week urged President Clinton to veto legislation outlawing partial-birth abortions and criticized members of Congress for waving “gruesome pictures” of the rarely used procedure during floor debates. The editorial pointed out that the pictures “don’t begin to explain the medical reasons behind the procedure.”
The line drawings and captions may seem inflammatory, but they are no more “gruesome” than the controversial procedure itself, which has ignited a heated, if largely symbolic, national argument. Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland, who recently described the paper’s “constitutional obligation” to give readers “the information needed to make intelligent decisions,” would not discuss the ad and referred all questions to Moon.
Moon says he routinely reviews controversial advertisements and often requires changes. But when the ad represents one side of a high-profile political debate, especially one on which the paper itself had taken an editorial position, Moon ought to turn his red pencil over to Sutherland, publish the ad and let the news staff decide how to put the issue in context. Censorship, like abortion, should be the last resort.
Odds and ends
Meet the Press, the nation’s longest-running television show, returns to local television this Sunday at 8 a.m. on WSMV-Channel 4. The NBC news show has been airing for almost 50 years but had been missing from Nashville’s NBC affiliate “for longer than most of the staff has worked here,” explained a self-conscious producer. Laurels to Channel 4 for finally correcting an embarrassing programming omission.
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