Last week, the Bucks County (Pa.) Courier Times ran an admittedly ham-handed editorial cartoon about police abuse. It depicted a line of children waiting to see Santa Claus, with one of them asking, “Keep us safe from the police.”
Enter Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President John McNesby.
In a scathing letter yesterday . . . McNesby demanded an apology from the Bucks County Courier Times for the cartoon.
“Surprisingly, you have at least one reader of that excuse for a newspaper you run,” McNesby wrote. “The one reader forwarded a copy of your disgraceful and highly offensive ‘cartoon.’ . . .
“There is a special place in hell for you miserable parasites in the media who seek to exploit violence and hatred in order to sell advertisements.”
The paper then issued an apology.
If we had recognized prior to publication that the cartoon would have caused unintended offense, our editors would have selected a different one for Sunday’s newspaper. Editing a newspaper is not easy and we don’t always get it right.
An apology might have been in order for the fact that the cartoon wasn’t particularly funny, original or poignant. But offending the sensibilities of law enforcement in the midst of a national uproar over the unnecessary killing of people by law enforcement isn’t something for which a newspaper should be apologizing. And it just gets worse from there.
Democracy isn’t easy either, but the protection of democracy puts journalists and law enforcement on the same side more often than not. That is particularly true at the Bucks County Courier Times. Our readers know our body of work and the respect and professionalism we show to law enforcement.
Our reporters and editors spend a great deal of time reporting on the work of area law enforcement and the protection of our communities. Both the Courier Times and Intelligencer newspapers have been fortunate to have police officers and police chiefs as community members of our editorial boards — selected, in part, to make sure the voice of law enforcement is something we hear. Those officers were willing to volunteer their time with our editorial boards because they know our publications respect the work that they do.
That mutual respect between local law enforcement and our staff is demonstrated time and time again when police ask us to share information with the public. Our journalists do work that helps police apprehend criminals and keep citizens away from dangerous situations.
This passage is far more offensive than the cartoon. Members of law enforcement should not be serving on a newspaper’s editorial board. The job of a newspaper is to hold law enforcement — and all government institutions — accountable. A newspaper should not consider itself to be on the “same side” as law enforcement. (No, that doesn’t mean journalists are on the “same side” as criminals, either.)
McNesby has a history of lashing out at journalists. When Philadelphia Daily News reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman broke an incredible story about a Philly PD rogue narcotics unit that was essentially robbing immigrant-owned bodegas, McNesby called a press conference in which he called drug-using police informants “one step above” reporters like Laker and Ruderman. Someone launched a Web site specifically to attack the reporters. The two women later won a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting.
As for the original letter, keep in mind, this isn’t some angry rogue cop; it’s the guy local law enforcement chose to represent them. In fact, if I were to try to explain to someone like John McNesby why police are seen by a growing number of people as brutish, aloof and short-tempered, I’d probably start by showing him John McNesby’s letter.