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Post-Gazette Editorial Board Criticized Over 'Reason As Racism' Argument

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
An editorial published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 15, 2017, argues calling someone a racist is paramount to McCarthyism. The opinion drew public criticism from readers, foundation leaders and P-G employees.

Two local foundations say the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial board is on the "wrong side of history" because of a piece it published Monday.

The editorial “Reason as racism: An immigration debate gets derailed” claims that calling President Donald Trump a “racist” for his remarks is not helpful in furthering the debate on immigration, and largely defends Trump. It said the word “racist” should be reserved for people like Dylan Roof, the white supremacist mass murderer.

The leaders of the Heinz Endowments and the Pittsburgh Foundation issued a public response to the editorial Monday, calling the piece “a silly mix of deflection and distortion that provides cover for racist rhetoric while masquerading as a defense of decency.”

Heinz President Grant Oliphant said the editorial makes the work of creating a fair and just Pittsburgh more difficult.  

“It projects an image of Pittsburgh that I think further entrenches us in some of the problems that this community is working hardest to try - and needs to work hardest to try and address,” said Oliphant. “So our ability to be a diverse and welcoming community, our ability to take on challenges around race, to be honest about the inequities that exist in this community.”

He said he heard from many people and organizations in Pittsburgh who found the editorial offensive.

“I think there was a real sense of intimidation,” he said. “It seems challenging to take on the paper of record's editorial policy for a lot of the organizations that we fund, so they were really hoping that we could speak out.”

The editorial was originally written and published in the Post-Gazette’s sister-paper, The Toledo Blade. Sharing editorials between the outlets happens routinely, according to Post-Gazette editorial page editor John Allison.

Allison said a newspaper’s editorial board is typically guided by its publisher, and in the case of “Reason as Racism," Allison said, “It’s what the publisher wanted.” Allison declined to comment further regarding public criticism.

Some current and former employees have responded.

Last week, Blade and Post-Gazette Publisher John Block was criticized by some for urging the paper to remove some of Trump’s alleged vulgar rhetoric from a headline. He and his twin brother Allan Block have publicly endorsed and donated large sums to Republican candidates in the past.

WESA receives funding from the Heinz Endowments and Pittsburgh Foundation.