PHILADELPHIA, DEC. 21 -- The Philadelphia Inquirer, stung by charges of racism over an editorial suggesting more poor women should use contraceptives, will take the unusual step Sunday of publishing a second editorial that apologizes for the first.
"I think maybe the best thing to say about it now is it is an apology and it's a change of position," Inquirer Editor Maxwell E.P. King said today.
On Dec. 12, the Inquirer printed an editorial, "Poverty and Norplant -- Can Contraception Reduce the Underclass?," which suggested that the contraceptive Norplant, recently approved by the federal government, could help solve the problem of poverty among blacks.
"Foolproof contraception could be invaluable in breaking the cycle of inner city poverty -- one of America's greatest challenges," the editorial said.
The editorial, written by Donald Kimelman, the paper's deputy editorial page editor, acknowledged better prenatal care and better schools as possible solutions to the problem. But it also said: "It's very tough to undo the damage of being born into a dysfunctional family. So why not make a major effort to reduce the number of children, of any race, born into such circumstances?"
It went on to suggest that incentives be given to welfare mothers to use Norplant.
Some staff members responded angrily. Inquirer columnists Steve Lopez and Claude Lewis criticized the editorial in print as offensive. Lopez compared editorial page editor David R. Boldt to Louisiana state legislator David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan member.
Staffers vented their displeasure in two staff meetings.
The first of the two meetings was "extremely emotional -- people in tears," Boldt said.
"I was shellshocked after the first meeting," he said.
Boldt said he was surprised by "the degree to which people were deeply pained by what they felt we said."
"In some cases they felt we were suggesting we felt they shouldn't have been born," he said.
Vanessa Williams, a reporter for the Inquirer and president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, criticized the editorial in a letter to the editor she wrote on the organization's behalf.
"While it noted in passing that there are more poor white people than poor black people in this country, the editorial emphasized a disproportionate percentage of African Americans living in poverty.
"The implication was that this is the target group for the proposed reduction -- to some unknown magic number -- of children born into poverty. That suggestion treads dangerously close to state sponsored genocide," she wrote.
King, to whom the editorial board reports, said the editorial had not been subject to a full discussion by the board. He said he "had some real misgivings about it and suggested some changes to make it more questioning and tentative and less assertive."
"But in retrospect I could see that the changes really didn't do the job. They were inadequate," King said.
"We thought we were writing an editorial that ... made the suggestion that poor women, including black women, ought to be empowered and encouraged to use a form of reliable contraception that would be available to upper- and middle-class women," Boldt said. "People felt we were endorsing black genocide.
King said editors were still working on the apology today.
"My feeling about this whole process is that ultimately it can be good for the paper," he said. "This has engendered a wide, passionate discussion within the paper about the need for diversity throughout the paper."