Staff Editorial: The Foghorn responds to recent op-ed controversy 

GRAPHIC COURTESY OF PIXABAY

Last Monday, the Foghorn posted an opinion piece by general assignment reporter Sophia McCrackin called “Why I oppose abortion” on Instagram. The post received over 300 comments on Instagram, the article received more than 20 comments on our website, and the op-ed has since become a topic of conversation in classes and hallways at USF. 

Being seasoned students at USF, we were aware that the opinion presented in the article was contrary to the beliefs that many students hold, and we expected critical discourse. The editor in chief and managing editor choose two weekly stories to post on our Instagram based on the timeliness of their content. We chose to post this op-ed because we were intrigued by Sophia’s call to improve our discussions about divisive topics, and we thought the post could serve as an extension of that suggestion. Genuinely, this opinion piece was not chosen for clickbait, to start a fight, or with the intention to make students uncomfortable on campus. 

We did not expect the abundance of personal attacks on the writer that streamed in and we did not intend to put the writer in harm’s way. We chose not to delete the post or disable comments on it because doing so would validate the commenters’ attempts to silence her and would condone cyberbullying. This unprecedented engagement was a reminder of the potential reach of our posts. 

As soon as comments were made attacking the writer, the editor in chief sought advice from the Foghorn’s advisor and University staff from the division of student life, both of whom advised against taking the post down. On Thursday of the week the piece was posted to Instagram, the editor in chief and managing editor issued a statement on Instagram that supported the respectful discussion of opinion pieces and condemned the silencing of student opinions.

We waited to put the statement out while balancing our own beliefs about abortion, our beliefs about freedom of speech, our concerns for our peers and our team member, and our authority on the matter. We did not take this situation lightly, and we wanted to make the most proactive choices that we could. 

Our staff of 14 does not have a consensus on how the situation should have been handled. We hope that the details we outline here will provide transparency to our readers that may have been lacking before. It is a privilege to be the official student newspaper of the University, and we hope we can reestablish trust with any readers who feel we have tarnished our credibility. 

To that point, there were holes in the op-ed’s arguments that our editorial staff should have addressed. The piece quoted sources that, to a liberal reader, enforce right-wing, oppressive ideologies. In the editing room, we questioned whether the stances presented in the sources could speak for themselves and whether our staff should edit those sources out. The op-eds we edit are not representative of our staff, according to our submission policy, and in early drafts, the sources cited are indicative of the writer’s level of understanding of a subject. However, it is our ethical responsibility to “seek truth and report it,” and we fell short of that commitment in this case by allowing the piece to cite sources that students pointed out could be linked to misinformation.  

Of 17 sources used in the piece, upon a second thorough review, we found that two were linked to biased content. The first biased source referenced the American College of Pediatrics, a far-right medical group that has advocated against LGBT+ civil rights in the past. We were unaware of this group’s illegitimacy, and we recognize that we should not have allowed that source in the article. Another argument that explained the “violence” caused by abortion procedures was sourced to LiveAction, an anti-abortion group; we should have linked to a more neutral source on the subject. One figure, the $1.7 billion Planned Parenthood made in 2021, was factual but was stated out of context and presented as misleading to many readers. Planned Parenthood only received $383,460 in revenue that was directly related to abortion services in 2021. On the online version of the op-ed, this staff editorial will be linked to clarify these concerns. 

It is also important to acknowledge that the op-ed came from a lens of privilege and failed to put into perspective how abortion laws disproportionately affect marginalized communities, especially Black and brown women living in poverty. Discussions about abortion, healthcare, or eugenics are not fully comprehensive without discussing race and the undeniable wealth gap that exists in our country. Our responsibility as editors is to make sure that all opinion pieces are as comprehensive as possible, and we recognize now that we could have done more to ensure that in this case. 

In our May 4 statement, we asked the community to respond to the op-ed through Letters to the Editor — one submitted by undergraduate student Kara Rooney is on page 11. 

Some readers asked why we did not run a pro-choice piece alongside the op-ed and offer a more balanced section. As we said in our statement, the Foghorn usually runs liberal-leaning op-eds, and we do not normally run articles to counter those. We did not want to treat a conservative opinion piece differently than we would a liberal one. This does not mean that future staff won’t consider running opposing pieces in tandem to further discussion on the topics they publish. 

We understand the commenters who said that the op-ed did not open the discussion that Sophia called for. Reading an op-ed in a newspaper does not equal discussion. However, if we are never exposed to others’ opinions, we will never have a chance to understand them. As we explained in one exchange with a reader, the op-ed passed through the hands of five liberal-identified editors at the Foghorn before it was published. We disagreed with Sophia’s anti-abortion stance, we challenged her arguments, but her opinion also challenged us to think about the topic from a perspective we don’t normally engage with. It is not our job at the Foghorn, and it should not be anyone’s prerogative in their day-to-day lives, to silence the opinions of those we disagree with. 

The conversations that have come from this week speak to a national debate over the role of journalism, our ability to have meaningful dialogue, and the current political polarization in America. 

To the comments calling for abortion rights that brought nuances to the conversation through personal examples, statistics, and logical inconsistencies within anti-abortion arguments, thank you. Your voices are valued as our nation grapples with sweeping measures against abortion healthcare. 

While our leadership has second-guessed the decisions we made over the last week, this situation has helped us understand our responsibility as journalists all the more deeply. As we have been trained to understand it, journalism is not meant to reflect your views back onto you, but to showcase what is happening in the world as it truly is. There are people who oppose abortion in this country, whether or not we personally agree with them. Ignoring that those people exist will not make them go away, and it certainly will not challenge their viewpoints.

This discussion has a particularly interesting place at USF, a campus rooted in Jesuit values that derive from the Roman Catholic Church. While our administration does not officially voice its stance or impose Catholic beliefs on us, the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church is against abortion. The Foghorn operates independently from the University and our content does not reflect their views, but our community might include more people who reflect these beliefs than meets the eye. This complexity could create nuanced conversations in our classrooms about what it means to communicate with both political spectra. We hope that the University will consider the importance of fostering conversations between disagreeing parties on our campus considering their complex identity. 

Moving forward, the Foghorn will adjust how we handle more sensitive topics, and our standards for publishing controversial opinions. Conservative pieces will encourage dialogue, exclude sources from concerning groups, and continue to be scrupulously fact-checked. As we uphold and specify our standards for publishing these pieces, we hope students will continue to press for nuanced arguments and respect their fellow students’ freedom of opinion. Thank you for reading the Foghorn and engaging with our work. 

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