The Philadelphia Human Relations Commission has launched an investigation at the request of the mayor after a well-known magazine published an essay that explored perspectives of white citizens on the issue of race relations.
Mayor Michael Nutter called on the commission to consider rebuking both Philadelphia Magazine and writer Bob Huber noting that “the First Amendment, like other constitutional rights, is not an unfettered right.”
Nutter’s fury was directed at a cover story titled, “Being White in Philly.” The story included conversations with mostly anonymous residents who detailed race relations in the City of Brotherly Love.
And the mayor also had some choice words for the anonymous individuals who were interviewed–some of whom claimed to have been victims of crimes perpetrated by blacks. He said they were “too cowardly” to provide their names.
Tom McGrath, the magazine’s editor, told Fox News he is very concerned that the government is investigating his publication.
“I find it chilling that he now wants to use the government to censor a news outlet,” he said. “As a journalist – as someone who thinks free speech is really important–I find that really, really troubling.”
McGrath said he stands by the story and the author–and acknowledged it set off a firestorm.
McGrath said the mayor “seriously overreacted to the story” and “mischaracterized the piece and what it’s trying to do.”
“White people do not always feel comfortable talking about race,” he said. “There are some white folks who don’t feel their views on certain issues are welcome in the conversation.”
And critics believe–ironically–that the mayor’s reaction to the story validates that point.
Nutter wants the commission to consider whether the magazine’s essay was the “reckless equivalent of shouting ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater.”
“Only by debunking myth with fact, and by holding accountable those who seek to confuse the two, can we insure that the prejudices reflected in the essay are accorded the weight they deserve: none at all,” the mayor wrote.
McGrath did say he welcomed the mayor’s call for a city-wide discussion about race – but noted the announcement was rich with irony.
“I find it pretty bizarre,” he said. “At the same time he wants us rebuked, he’s saying we need to have a conversation about race in Philadelphia – which was our point in the first place.”
“His point seems to be that he’s allowed to talk about some of this stuff but that other people aren’t,” McGrath added.
[Editor’s Note: Mayor Nutter’s full letter can be found here. Below is the most troubling portion.
While I fully recognize that constitutional protections afforded the press are intended to protect the media from censorship by the government, the First Amendment, like other constitutional rights, is not an unfettered right, and notwithstanding the First Amendment, a publisher has a duty to the public to exercise its role in a responsible way. I ask the Commission to evaluate whether the “speech” employed in this essay is not the reckless equivalent of “shouting ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater,” its prejudiced, fact-challenged generalizations an incitement to extreme reaction.
The original “Being White in Philly” article is available here.]