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Censorship, hospitals, and non-profit newspapers
20 January 2005 - Fullerton Observer

In the January Observer, letter-writer Ralph Scheffers decried St. Jude Hospital’s removal of the Observer rack from its lobby. An accompanying editor’s note supplied needed background, and both the letter and the note joined in calling St. Jude’s action an act of censorship. I think it’s important to note that – and I say this as a dedicated reader of the Observer since I moved here almost two years ago – no matter how upset people can be over events like these, this is not an example of censorship.

Censorship occurs when public or government entities use their power to prohibit or infringe the otherwise free and peaceable exchange of ideas – by definition, censorship cannot occur between private parties or individuals or businesses. A decision by one radio station not to give the Dixie Chicks any airtime, or by another not to carry Rush Limbaugh’s show, or by another not to carry Howard Stern’s – these are not examples of censorship, but of free-market decisions by responsible private parties. Such was the decision of St. Jude Hospital regarding the Observer. If the Fullerton Public Library refused to stock the Observer; if the Fullerton City Council shut down your office after running a controversial article questioning, for example, a letter sent by the Council to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation about a nearby airbase - these are examples of censorship.

Wholesale overuse of terms like – to name just a few – censorship, hero, rights, and discrimination tend to minimize the true and deserved impact these words should have on all of us, and desensitize us to situations where they are used improperly. When professional athletes are labeled “heroes”, it lessens the impact of resting the same descriptor on a firefighter rushing into the World Trade Center moments before its collapse. These words have been haphazardly thrown around for so long that we’ve seemingly lost all sense of what they really mean.

I sympathize with S.A. and his negative experience, and I applaud the Observer for being unafraid to run controversial articles ranging from nurse-patient ratios to election-season shenanigans. I’d much prefer a St. Jude that still stocks the Observer – I said as much in an email to their P.R. Department after reading the January issue – but please, let’s keep the cries of “censorship!” where they belong – as reactions to government intrusion into the private lives of citizens.

HTML & original content © 2004, 2005 Jason Trippet