Backlash Against the Charlotte Allen Anti-Atheist Piece in the LA Times: Part 2 May 21, 2009

Backlash Against the Charlotte Allen Anti-Atheist Piece in the LA Times: Part 2

Charlotte Allen wrote her absurd anti-atheist rant in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. By Monday, a staffer had already issued a response — a non-apology which focused on the backlash from atheists.

Yesterday, they began publishing letters-to-the-editor.

The one thing that Allen gets right is that many atheists are motivated by anger.

We are angry that freedom is deprived from people of all faiths by people of one faith simply because majority rules.

We are angry that scientific research with the potential to dramatically improve life is restricted or even prohibited because of archaic religious principles…

From what I have seen, the people running around trying to write laws to enforce their ideas and beliefs, and exclude those who do not hold similar beliefs, are not atheists but believers.

Charlotte, what do we do about those other nonbelievers? The ones who have manners, are respectful to believers, don’t tell lame jokes, aren’t angry and would love to have a serious discussion about the existence of God?… I find it difficult to hate and ridicule them. You?

What an astonishing bit of drivel. How can anyone with a modicum of intelligence lump all atheists into one category as she does?

And she thinks atheists are crashing bores?

To characterize those enlightened enough to question a belief system as “whining victims” is akin to similarly classifying all those brave souls who, throughout history, have challenged the status quo and, in so doing, have guided the human race into more progressive and evolved thinking.

I have to think there were hundreds of responses that were not published. The ones above seem fairly tame and not nearly as critical as they could be.

And there’s not a single letter in favor of the piece? That would be wonderful, but I find it hard to believe…

Reader Claudia has her own theory about this:

… my gut instinct tells me that they chose the letters-to-the-editor in such a way that legitimizes the discussion — that merely reflects it’s a “controversial subject,” not bigotry, that rightly outrages the offended group and has no place in a newspaper.

I’m hoping they’ll publish more letters in the coming days. This doesn’t make up for their mistaken decision to give Allen the space to voice her ignorant and unbased opinions.

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  • theShaggy

    Aaaaand somebody at the LA Times is pulling out their hair, upset at the fact that they made controversy which got dozens and dozens of new readers around the internet, and are clearly repenting by stimulating the polarized fight with non-answers and dissenting, mobilized atheists. They probably wish they hadn’t done so in the first place…


  • She could have made her points in a less juvenile manner.

    But I’m glad she didn’t. 😉

  • Larry Huffman

    I think Allen’s piece was crap…pure crap…but I am not really holding the paper accountable for publishing it. For a couple of reasons.

    1) freedom of speech and opinion. She is entitled to hers, and as an accomlished (*cough*) writer, I have to admit, she deserved the space. An editor for a paper who would squelch this could be called out on the first ammendment…something no true newspaper man would want to risk.

    2) The above letters. You see…allowing the vile hatred christians have for others, while trying to be the sole possessors of the truth and light and love, show in writing like this…well, her article mocked christianity in a way no atheist could. So, people like her are helping to move secularism forward. That would not have been true 50 years ago, but today it is. The world is progressive…and the young people and older folks who have found it in them to open their minds and hearts a little, will see her drivel for what it is. In fact, the only ones who will take anything she writes seriously will be the ones who cannot be reached anyway. She is helping to tear down her own beliefs by shwoing christianity’s true colors.

    In fact, we should all thank her and the paper. What a great discourse this is evoking in the paper. An atheist article would not have done the same, I am thinking.

    I am an LA Times subscriber…and I am glad they did this. It is a good paper, really. I would have published it if I was the editor…and I would have known exactly what I was doing. Everyone knows the opinions expressed by the writers is not that of the paper. I would think we all would understand that as well.

  • Larry,

    Very wise words…



  • Would be nice if they gave William Lobdell the job of writing a rebuttal.

  • Bob

    An editor for a paper who would squelch this could be called out on the first ammendment…something no true newspaper man would want to risk.

    Unless it was an anti-christian piece.

  • James H


    I disagree. If I were an opinion-page editor, I would have rejected Charlotte Allen’s piece. She takes far too scattershot an approach to her material, evinces more vitriol than logical argument, makes no points that truly add to the atheism-theism debate, and betrays a lack of understanding of her subject matter.

    Contrast this with Michael Gerson’s column on atheism and morality from 2007. While most of us would argue that Gerson is completely wrong in his precepts, and ignorant about atheism to boot, he nevertheless focuses on a very small point, explores it within the context of his short column, and does so in a civilized manner.

  • Epistaxis

    Larry Huffman:

    freedom of speech and opinion. She is entitled to hers, and as an accomlished (*cough*) writer, I have to admit, she deserved the space. An editor for a paper who would squelch this could be called out on the first ammendment…something no true newspaper man would want to risk.

    A lot of people seem not to understand what that means. If you’d read even the first five words of the Amendment, you’d know they are “Congress shall make no law…” Freedom of speech means the absence of state censorship; it doesn’t mean anyone who privately owns a soapbox is legally required to let you stand on it. A newspaper is not the government, and there are things it shouldn’t print. If you don’t like it, you can start your own newspaper and publish whatever you want, but nobody has to read it.

  • Larry Huffman

    I know exactly what it means. But how it has been applied by newspapers for a very long time is very differnet. But you guys are all entitled to your opinions. I am not concerned who disagrees with me, really. But I am also not as thin skinned as the christians are, and I do not cry foul or claim I am offended when people write their opinions.

  • Larry Huffman

    And in effect…what you are saying is that you think a newspaper should only print articles you agree with. And that editors should stifle differing opinions. You do know that the OP in op-ed is ‘opinion’…right?

  • Larry Huffman

    And…I will add one more thing. If any atheist writer wrote an article expressing our views of christianity (that it is not based on reason or fact, that the followers are indoctrinated and gullible, etc.)…based on what you are saying about how this editor acted, those articles would have to be stifled as well. Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, for example, are just as outspoken…and they would be squelched by the same standards you are stating.

    We cannot expect secular and atheistic views to be able to be presented while stopping all theistic viewpoints. And as I said, this article did more FOR atheism than against it.

    Except, I suppose, for atheists who read it and get all offended and shocked…as if they did not know that the fundamentalists thought this about us. But again, a reasonable person affords others their own viewpoint…even in print…if they also expect their viewpoint to be allowed and show up in print.

    I disagree with everything the article says (except that we are a bit angry…yes, that is true…with cause)…but I do not understand how alleged open minded freethinkers can want a newspaper to squelch an article simply because they disagree with it. The fact is, just as many most likely DO agree with it.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    C’mon, it’s not an issue of freedom of speech in any sense. It was a poorly written, pointless, scattershot and hateful piece that was directing ire at atheists without backing it up with sufficient evidence. Are we wrong to ask for higher editorial standards from the LA Times? No one is saying that the paper should only print opinions that we agree with. As it is, the flaws in this piece are exhibited in far too many op-ed pieces in newspapers around the country. I demand a higher quality of writing and thought to be expressed in the opinion sections of newspapers, be the opinions liberal, conservative, Christian, atheist, or anything else.

    By the way, editors squelch pieces all the time. That’s their job; it’s called editing. Running that piece was poor editing. Space on an op-ed piece is finite; editors make judgment calls every day as to what deserves to appear there and what doesn’t. Nothing to do with freedom of speech.

  • I think some folks forget that newspapers – and other media – are business ventures. It’s in their express interest to generate readers and they’ve clearly done that; controversy always brings in readership, especially when the article/piece has the tone and substance of Allen’s.

    Speaking of tone and substance, the article is clearly meant to provoke. A success, from what I can see.

    Personally, I wouldn’t want my name attached to writing that’s so poor but I don’t necessarily see a problem with the article. I disagree on many points, find others quite laughable, but I have no problem with it being published in a “reputable” newspaper.

  • llewelly

    So, by Larry Huffman’s logic, if a bad neighbor takes a dump on his lawn, it’s good because it raises awareness about unsanitary people who defecate on the lawns of others. Gotcha.

  • Siamang

    And in effect…what you are saying is that you think a newspaper should only print articles you agree with.

    Got Straw?

    I merely expect my paper to only run well-argued, well-written views I disagree with.

    I used to work at a small newspaper, and I edited newspapers in high school and at my university. I’m a “true newspaper man”, whatever that is supposed to mean.

    This was a shit article that I wouldn’t have run.

    I know exactly what it means.

    No, I don’t actually think you do. Or if you do, you ignored what it really means in order to make your point, which is a faulty point if you think the First Amendment guarantees Charlotte Allen ink in the Los Angeles Times.

    The LA TIMES doesn’t owe ink to anyone, as it is not a public forum. Every editor knows this… in fact that’s WHAT an editor does… The job of editor is to choose who and what deserves column-inches and what does not.

    I will agree that having her write very poorly and then having the respondents write and act better is a way to make lemonade out of lemons. In that way, I should be thankful that this enemy is ridiculous.

    However, only through our anger and action is this enemy made to look ridiculous. The only way we make this lemonade is to respond exactly as we did.

    By clamoring for a better and more discerning editorial treatment of stories like this, we are asking that the conversation advance, and not remain forever at the level of schoolyard sophistry.

  • Aj

    On the grounds that nearly every paragraph contained an untruth, along with some egregious misquoting, an editor would be fully justified in not publishing. I have no idea how anyone could say it “deserved the space”. It wasn’t written well, basically just parroting the same facile and ignorant talking points, it added nothing new whatsoever. I would love for theists to actually justify what they say about sophisticated theologians using examples and analysis, it would be damn hilarious. There was very little content, much of it was simple minded namecalling and whines.

    The First Amendment right is for the newspaper, and if the editor decides not to publish an article then he is wielding that right. If anyone cries that the writer’s right has been suppressed then they’re ignorant fools who don’t understand the First Amendment in the first place. Editors don’t have to publish every piece of crap they recieve.

  • Richard Wade

    Newspapers, like many businesses try to find a balance between principles and expediency. They may have some standards of quality for their journalism and for their editorial practices, while they also know that appealing to the most base impulses of the public can get them at least a short term gain in readership. There are trade-offs for both these strategies.

    Each newspaper falls somewhere on that spectrum from high-principled journalism to gossip rag, smut rag or hate rag. Some have clawed their way from disrepute to respectability, but for most it has been a downhill route. As newspapers around the world face extinction in the Internet Epoch, I expect that we’ll see more of them whoring for any kind of readership instead of appealing to the best in their public.

    I subscribed to the Los Angeles Times for many years, but some years ago I canceled because the paper started turning yellow long before the sun had baked it on my driveway.

  • Thilina

    Charlotte Allen had every right to write that article there’s no law against that.

    Should the editor have published it, No.
    But only because its clear bigotry, even for an opinion piece. Replace the word atheist with blacks, Christians or Jews (as Hemant did) and it would have never been published.

    Had she made the same points in a more intellectual fashion, without the generalizations and clear hate and anger (which she hypocritically accuse some us of being) it would be a different story

    If the publisher was just trying to cause controversy and get web traffic they should go with my earlier suggestion and replace the atheist with a more socially protected minority (blacks, Jews, Muslims, NRA members, Republicans, Xtians)

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