Unpublishing Guernica

The post was a beautifully written first-person account of Joanna Chen, who found herself caught after October 7th between the reality of the atrocities of that day and her concerns for her friends and Palestinians in Gaza. It was poignant.

The horrors that had been perpetrated rose to the surface of my consciousness at these times. I listened to interviews with survivors; I watched videos of atrocities committed by Hamas in southern Israel and reports about the rising number of innocent civilians killed in a devastated Gaza.

There is a limit to which the human soul can stomach atrocities and keep going. On the other hand, turning away from distressing footage taken by Hamas terrorists, by surveillance cameras, and by people running for their lives or sheltering from missiles meant turning away from their pain. I couldn’t do it.

It was also too incorrect for many of the staff at the journal Guernica.

Although Guernica proclaims that it is “a home for singular voices, incisive ideas, and critical questions,” this essay apparently crossed the line. The article has been removed from the journal’s website. In its place reads the message: “Guernica regrets having published this piece, and has retracted it. A more fulsome explanation will follow.”

[Update: It appears the article was de-published after multiple members of Guernica‘s all-volunteer staff resigned over the decision to publish the essay. For explanations of why some editorial and other staff felt they had to resign, see hereherehere, and here.]

It wasn’t that Chen’s post was pro-Israel or anti-Palestine, but that it wasn’t anti-Israel or Pro-Palestine. And that was the only perspective the staff of Guernica could, would tolerate. Chen’s post was unpublished.

I am resigning from my position as co-publisher at Guernica Magazine.

Free Palestine. pic.twitter.com/7mF21mbne9

— madhuri sastry (@Chicks_Balances) March 10, 2024

I have also decided to resign from my position as publishing assistant at Guernica and stand in solidarity with other editors and publishing team members. This is not an editorial choice I can support. Free Palestine. https://t.co/X1fLuRKKRp

— Chelsea Risley (@chelsea_risley) March 10, 2024

on my resignation from guernica magazine pic.twitter.com/JDU6Jw4bb3

— April Zhu 朱萸 (@aprzhu) March 10, 2024

I resign as Fiction Editor at Guernica pic.twitter.com/8CSPOOjiF0

— Ishita Marwah (@IshitaMarwah) March 10, 2024

It’s not as if Guernica is an influential magazine in the real world of politics, although I’m sure it matters to some. It’s not as if these volunteer staffers aren’t entitled to quit for any reason or no reason. They are. But what does matter is that Guernica laid claim to “producing uncompromising journalism,” which is now revealed as a complete sham.

A current fundraising appeal on the Guernica website declares: “At Guernica, we’ve spent the last 15 years producing uncompromising journalism.” After de-publishing the essay, that appeal may need to be taken down too.

Aside from new media, there are two general type of focused media: That which claims to be open-ended, publishing all perspectives on a specific subject and that which is openly directed toward one perspective only. There is nothing wrong with publishing a biased perspective, provided you don’t try to pass it off as being unbiased. Think of an MSNBC panel discussion that ranges from “Biden is a good president” to “I want to have Biden’s babies.” The same is true in the opposite direction.

But somebody at Guernica believed in the journal’s claim to producing “uncompromising journalism,” and made the editorial decision to publish Chen’s essay. It was, to my eye, a wonderful piece of writing and, again to my eye, hardly controversial. It was not a screed against Hamas, or a glorification of Israeli tactics in Gaza, but a empathetic personal view from the ground after October 7th from a person who cared about Palestinians as well as Israelis.

And that was enough to so outrage the uncompromising political correctness of some of Guerica’s staff that they resigned rather than be associated with a journal that would post something so well-written, so fair-minded, so honest that didn’t hate who they demanded the author hate. That’s the state of tolerance to which we’ve awoken.

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