When an obit makes a political statement what’s an editor to do?
Such was the conundrum confronting me Tuesday afternoon when I was alerted by Editorial Assistant Kathy Roland to an incoming obituary for John A. Reich of Dingmans Ferry, who died at the age of 91.
Reich’s obit read pretty conventionally until you got down toward the end.
Two of the last three grafs read:
“John was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and friend who will be deeply missed but happily remembered. Mr. Reich’s last wishes for us that are left behind in this world is that we band together and clean out the current White House and take America back from the evil condition it is in today. May God Bless You All….
In lieu of flowers the family respectfully asks that donations be sent to the campaign of anybody who is running against President Barack Obama in 2012.”
To the world at large, it’s a safe bet that our obits are seen as a product of the newsroom. That is, reported and written by our news staff.
The truth is obits are actually paid advertisements. The days of free obits appearing as a community courtesy ended probably about a decade ago as newspapers sought more revenue opportunities and their placement was absorbed by ad departments.
We’re no different.
So back to my conundrum: Do we keep this verbiage in the obit, even though some might reasonably see it as unusual, at best, and perhaps objectionable and even in poor taste, at worst?
Features Editor Helen Yanulus, who oversees Kathy Roland, made a cogent case for excising the political passages.
Helen made the point that it would reflect poorly on the Pocono Record as an institution and that readers would see it as us advancing some kind of political agenda or letting this through in error.
We checked with the funeral home, and yes, indeed, the obit was correct. We were not being pranked.
I conferred with Classified Ad Director Kelli McFall, who conferred with Advertising Director Brad Bailey. At the end of the day, it was ultimately my call. (Thanks guys!)
While I personally would not consider weaving this kind of verbiage into the obituary of one of my loved ones, no matter how diehard their political views, this was a paid ad.
It was not libelous. He didn’t accuse someone of committing some heinous act or crime. In a way, it was the rough equivalent of a letter to the editor at election time where partisans bash each other in print and urge voters to toss out their political opponents.
Plus, if we started here by censoring obits, then where do we stop? It felt to me like a slippery slope.
So at the end of the day and at the end of his life, John A. Reich of Dingmans Ferry got the last word.