From Good News, vol. 6, no. 8, August 1993, pp. 29-30.

Letter regarding Good News boycott

Dear Editor,

I have been observing with interest the recent organizing of a boycott of businesses which advertise in the Good News. While I suspect I agree with the boycott organizers on many (if not most) of their disagreements with stances taken on various issues in the Good News, I cannot support their boycott. Just as I deplore the attempts by the Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Affiliation to alter television programming by boycotting advertisers, I deplore the attempt by the publishers of the "Rotten Fish List" to do the same to the Good News.

The way to combat speech you disagree with is not to silence it, but to create more and better speech of your own. When the Good News publishes an article you disagree with, write a letter pointing out where you disagree and why. Editor Adam Colwell has a very open policy about letter publication--this is the only publication to which I have written which has published every letter I have submitted, complete and unedited. (And this despite the facts that I am neither Christian nor conservative and my letters have all--at least until now--been quite critical of Good News positions.)

The boycott strategy also seems to me to be likely to backfire. Fundamentalist Christians already have somewhat of a siege mentality; a boycott simply validates their perceptions of various groups as out to suppress their views. And, in fact, that's exactly what's going on here. This boycott is no attempt at persuasion or argument, it is an attempt to strong-arm a publication into silence regarding certain viewpoints on certain issues.

I must point out that I do not find all aspects of the boycott objectionable--only those which are directed at trying to change the content (or existence) of the Good News via pressure on the advertisers. I have no objection to informing the advertisers of the nature of this publication so that those who do not wish to be associated with it can make an informed choice (though I suspect most already know what they are doing). I likewise have no objection to individuals who choose not to do business with Good News advertisers on the grounds that they find its contents so appalling that they cannot in good conscience spend money which will indirectly support it. I even have no objection to publicly sharing this decision with others. It might seem, then, that I have endorsed all aspects of the boycott. The distinction may appear to be a fine one, but what I object to is telling businesses that they must stop advertising in the Good News if they want to keep your business, and I object to the implication by the boycott organizers that anyone who supports environmentalism, the pro-choice movement, or the rights of homosexuals should join the boycott with the intent of stopping the Good News. Whether or not to do business with the Good News' advertisers should be, I think, an individual decision made without malice and without the goal of suppressing views one finds disagreeable. The boycotters should have chosen as their goal to inform, not to coerce.

I recommend that all readers of the Good News read Nat Hentoff's book Free Speech for Me--But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other (1992, HarperCollins). Hentoff, a columnist for the Village Voice, describes how left and right-wing organizations rationalize censorship of their opponents. Some of the events Hentoff describes include attempts to censor books from the classroom and school libraries, attempts to deny free speech to abortion protesters, and (perhaps the most ironic): left-wing attempts to censor artwork.

Jim Lippard