Dennis Anderson, the editor of the Antelope Valley Press—a paper that serves the northern Los Angeles County cities of Palmdale and Lancaster—is in the unenvious position of walking a fine line between the paper’s large Republican readership and the obvious fact that one of its local elected officials recently spoke of Muslims, as a group of human beings, in a way that is difficult to describe as anything other than inflammatory, hysterical, and bigoted. Here, as reported in the Antelope Valley Press (January 27, 2010), is exactly what Lancaster city councilwoman Sherry Marquez said:
LANCASTER—Councilwoman Sherry Marquez is under fire from a Los Angeles Islamic organization and from the Antelope Valley Muslims for comments she posted on her personal Internet page concerning a Muslim man charged with beheading his wife in New York.
“This is what the Muslim religion is all about—the beheading, honor killings are just the beginning of what is to come in the U.S.A,” Marquez wrote on her Facebook page.
“We are told this is a small majority (sic) of Muslims in America but it is truly what they are all about,” she said.
Now this is pretty hard to sympathize with, but Dennis Anderson, his finger to the local political winds (which, in California’s Antelope Valley, always seem to be blowing to the right), gives it a go. In his lead editorial on B6 of the January 31, 2010 edition of the Sunday paper, Anderson begins philosophically, musing over the nature of the pro-evolution 1955 Broadway play Inherit the Wind, and quoting Proverbs 11:29, which reads in part:
He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.
Dennis Anderson quotes the Proverbs passage as a way of suggesting that somebody in the community is troubling Lancaster’s “house” and is about to “inherit the wind.” But here’s the kicker: he never says who, exactly, is responsible for stirring things up in Lancaster’s symbolic house, and is, therefore, about to find themselves facing the cold wind for it. He leaves that surmise to the reader. It might be Sherry Marquez electorally, or it might be the Muslims in the community who are, henceforth, treated by Lancaster’s city council as an annoyance, and not really equal citizens within a city that they pay taxes in.
In other words, it’s quite obvious that Sherry Marquez wrote something bigoted toward a minority within the City of Lancaster, but Dennis Anderson is simply unable to say so. He cannot speak plainly about this because too many people who read his paper agree with what Sherry Marquez said. Had Marquez been a Democratic official in the city, and moved from the particular to the general with regard to, say, Jews or African Americans, it would not be difficult to recognize old-style antisemitism, religious hatred, or racism at work. But this is Republican Sherry Marquez, and we’re talking about Muslims, and so Dennis Anderson punts:
One question, in anyone’s community, is who all is included at the table within that big house that is a community?
Therein lies an array of many possible answers as to who “shall inherit the wind.”
Dennis Anderson, as the editor of a midsized community newspaper serving two fairly large California cities, by not taking a clear stand against Marquez’s bigotry, is actually enabling it. He even treats her comments with respect, as if they have intellectual content and say something interesting:
We have had a week of interesting statements uttered by Lancaster Councilwoman Sherry Marquez, and her political ally, fellow congregant and patron, Mayor R. Rex Parris.
Talk about the Orwellian corruption of language. Since when did prejudice, essentializing minorities, and cultural stereotyping become “interesting”? For an editor, it’s a shameful and spineless display. Dennis Anderson even tried to remind readers that Sherry Marquez has the right to free speech, which no reasonable person disputes:
Intellectual freedom is a right, as defined by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Amen. Nobody disagrees. So why bring it up? Precisely to obfuscate and draw attention away from Sherry Marquez’s bigotry—which Dennis Anderson so clearly does not want to face head-on.
I hope Dennis Anderson does better should he decide to comment on this again in the next week or two. He spoke of the 1920s Inherit the Wind era. We’ll see if he takes his own hint and finds an infusion of backbone and plain speaking from that era’s most famous and endearing newspaperman, H.L. Menken. It’s the role, afterall, of a good newspaper editor to speak truth to power, and inherit the cold winds that fly in your face for doing so. There are few things more pathetic than a newspaper editor unwilling to use language plainly within the house that he finds himself in, and inherit the wind for it. Speaking one’s mind, and inheriting the wind, is what a free and honorable person, journalist or not, does. Sherry Marquez spoke her mind openly, and as a resident of the Antelope Valley, I’ve spoken mine. Now it’s Dennis Anderson’s turn.
I’m assuming Dennis Anderson does not share Sherry Marquez’s views concerning the Muslims who live in the Antelope Valley, and I’m rooting for him to stop his evasiveness, and to buck up and say so.