On Regrettable and False Accusations of “Censorship”

Truthout does not endorse political candidates in any race. We see it as our job to hold the feet of elected officials to the fire, especially when they run for re-election or a new office. In election season, we see it as our role to continue publishing reporting that is grounded in facts about candidates’ policy stances and record, and commentary and analysis that is informative even while opinionated.

As part of this role, long before the beginning of this election season and before the announcement of her presidential candidacy, Truthout has published both original pieces and reprints that are highly critical — uncompromisingly critical — of Hillary Clinton.

A far from comprehensive list of such articles includes Liza Featherstone on Hillary Clinton’s “faux feminism,” Robert Naiman on how Clinton enabled the military coup in Honduras while secretary of state in 2009, Mark Karlin on Clinton’s use of war criminal Henry Kissinger as a character reference, an exposé by Truthout staff reporter Candice Bernd on Clinton raking in millions from Wall Street while touting campaign finance reform, a damning indictment by William Rivers Pitt of how she “disgraced herself” by invoking 9/11 to justify taking that Wall Street money, and in-depth pieces from Michael Corcoran on Clinton’s long history of pushing the Democrats to the right, her foreign policy record and her more recent attacks on single-payer health care. This is to say nothing of the many articles that have been more broadly critical of all Democratic candidates who have featured in this election race, the elite Democratic establishment that favors Clinton, the party as a whole, and the current US two-party system.

The idea that Truthout has a bias towards Hillary Clinton is demonstrably false on its face. Yet sadly, this is the premise of a highly misleading and factually inaccurate article by John Pilger published in Counterpunch, “Trump and Clinton: Censoring the Unpalatable.”

John Pilger’s history of excellent reporting spans decades and, like many of our contributors, in this career he has brought many serious injustices to light. It is therefore a source of great regret and disappointment to us that we need to set the record straight in this regard.

It has long been Truthout’s policy that for articles to be featured as Truthout originals, they need to either be exclusive content or to be very substantially revised and rewritten versions of content that has appeared elsewhere. As John Pilger states, he submitted an article to us that had already been published elsewhere. We communicated our policy to him and, in keeping with that policy, requested revisions. These proposed revisions preserved numerous criticisms of Hillary Clinton, such as the following section, which would have been published in this form:

Hillary Clinton is not calling for an unapologetic use of torture, as Trump is, but she nevertheless embraces the violence of a system whose vaunted “exceptionalism” is totalitarian with an occasional liberal face….

In the 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran with nuclear weapons. As Secretary of State under Obama, she participated in the overthrow of the democratic government of Honduras. Her contribution to the destruction of Libya in 2011 was almost gleeful. When the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, was publicly assaulted (sodomized by a bayonet) and killed by a rebel fighter — a murder made possible by US logistics — Clinton gloated over his death: “He came, he saw, he died.”

One of Clinton’s closest allies is Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of State, who has attacked young women for not supporting “Hillary”. This is the same Madeleine Albright who infamously celebrated on TV the death of half a million Iraqi children as “worth it”.

Among Clinton’s biggest backers are the Israel lobby and the arms companies that fuel the violence in the Middle East. She and her husband have received a fortune from Wall Street.

It is not unusual (and definitely not “censorship”) for a publication to reach out to an author and propose edits that the editors believe would strengthen an article by steering it toward increased accuracy, through the acknowledgment of nuances and the avoidance of false equivalences or sweeping claims made with an overly broad brush. In such a situation, if an author is unhappy with the proposed edits, the expectation is that the author will respond by making alternate changes of his or her own to address the concern raised by the editor, while still making the point that the author wanted to make. (In this case, the editor’s concerns included that the piece risked inaccurately equating Donald Trump with Clinton, or even engaging in Trump apologia, rather than presenting the existing differences between the two candidates while pointing out the unseen dangers in a Clinton presidency.)

The email from Truthout’s content relations editor Alana Price to John Pilger that contained the proposed cut that he quotes (along with a number of other cuts and changes unrelated to Hillary Clinton) invited Pilger to make his own changes in response to the proposed edits with this note:

I’ve attached a version of the piece that incorporates some edits that Truthout’s editorial committee would like to request and also indicates one spot where an additional paragraph or two could be added to help differentiate the piece from the versions that have already appeared elsewhere. Would you be up for making this addition so that we can run the piece?

Instead of engaging with these edits in a good-faith manner — by reinstating sections that felt important to him while also making additions or changes of his own to address the editors’ concerns about the inaccuracy of the broad-brush equating of Trump with Clinton — Pilger instead responded with aggressive demands that seemed to imply that if his article were not immediately published verbatim without edits, Truthout or its editors could face some threat:

Please consider very carefully this matter. If you censor my work — an article that is explicitly about breaking a silence — you make Truthout vulnerable in a presidential election year.

Each and every writer who submits work to Truthout for publication or republication needs to be willing to work with our editors collaboratively. That did not happen in this case when revisions were requested. As a result, Truthout’s editors made the decision not to republish this piece. Calling this decision “censorship” is inaccurate and contributes to an unfortunate pattern in which the word risks losing all meaning.

Truthout makes judgment calls as to what to publish and republish every day, and a decision not to republish an article does not mean we are damning that piece by implication, let alone censoring it, while it remains freely available elsewhere. Presenting the decision not to publish this article as politically-motivated “censorship,” stemming from a desire to protect Hillary Clinton, is easily demonstrable as false. We trust that Truthout’s readers will continue to have faith in our ability to hold all politicians to account while also maintaining the highest possible ethical and editorial standards.

Appendix: Further reading on Hillary Clinton at Truthout: