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We Believe In Truth

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Americans have lots of opinions. They always have. When Alexis de Tocqueville, a young Frenchman, traveled to America in 1831 to study how prisons functioned in our republic, he discovered that Americans loved to join civic groups, read newspapers and debate current affairs. We still do.

But then, as now, many of us only want to hear opinions we agree with. That’s why political newspapers were so popular in the early days of our republic—Americans wanted to know what THEIR party was doing, what THEIR party leaders were saying, and they expected to hear those things in THEIR party’s newspapers.

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Yes, newspapers in those days published with and avowed bias – Whig or Democrat, later (and only briefly) Whig, Democrat, Know Nothing. On the cusp of the Civil War in 1860, Republican, Southern Democrat, National Democrat, Constitutional Unionist. And as the 1860 presidential election approached, four newspapers published in Augusta. One was more-or-less independent, and no one in the South then was Republican, so the city had one independent newspaper and three political ones.

In the early 20th century, American newspapers eschewed the bias of the political press, the excesses of the yellow press, the dull plodding of the literary press and adopted a new model, one grounded on unbiased, unaffiliated, detached, objective journalism for their news pages and opinion pages that were open to expression of all opinions.

When The Augusta Press began publishing in mid-January, we declared that we would follow that 20th century model. We decided to adhere to that old-fashioned model of journalism because we believed it was the right kind of journalism for us. It was a good fit. None of us felt comfortable with offering a politically grounded news medium, as so many are today.  We decided early on that The Augusta Press would be an unbiased source of local news coupled with a lively opinion section that was open to all perspectives. To follow any other path was a deal breaker for some of us who ardently believe that journalism should follow the Adolph Ochs model – publish without fear or favor.

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You will read us telling the truth and raising hell with public officials who are not serving the public as they should. You will read us covering social issues that concern the least among us. You will read us taking principled stances in our editorials. You will never ever see us turning away an opinion because it is unpopular, because it is “liberal” or “conservative,” or because it will cost us readers who cancel subscriptions because they disagree with someone else’s opinion and label it a “lie.”

In a dissent to Gertz v. Welch, the second most important libel case in recent American history, conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell declared there is no such thing as a false idea. Powell continued, “However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries but on the competition of other ideas.”

Powell’s argument is grounded in a free speech philosophy John Milton put forth in 1644, the marketplace of ideas. Milton wrote that the only way to find truth is by allowing ideas to compete in the marketplace. When that competition occurs, he argued, proper ideas will come to the fore and improper ones will recede to the background and eventually be proven wrong.

That is why The Augusta Press accepts and encourages a wide spectrum of ideas for our opinion columns. We believe in truth. We believe, in most instances, truth can be discovered with sufficient consideration and discussion. We believe ideas should be debated in pursuit of the truth. If we only expose readers to ideas they agree with, they’ll become complacent, content that their ideas are right and no others need be considered.     

Do opinions equate to facts? No. Only facts are probably true or false, according to the standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court for judging whether a statement is a fact or an opinion. We’ll publish many different opinions. It is up to our readers to determine which ideas are fact and which are opinion. We make no judgments. That is not our place or our purpose. Our place and our purpose are to provide a marketplace for ideas so citizens can debate, discuss and discern.

Debbie Reddin van Tuyll is Editor-in-chief of The Augusta Press. Reach her at [email protected]

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