Publisher’s Note: The Spy, David Montgomery, and the Limits of Free Speech

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On Monday of this week, the Spy published David Montgomery’s opinion piece on the recent school shooting in Colorado that took place earlier this month. In his commentary, David contrasted the terrorist motives with the heroism of the students who charged the assailant, one of whom was killed during this courageous act. Within his column, Montgomery expressed concerns that one of the murderers, who had been questioning his gender identity at the time of the crime, was the result of our society “brainwashing teens into gender dysphoria.” It was tortured logic at best.

Nonetheless, it has always been the Spy’s mission to provide a safe harbor for very different perspectives, even those that might be repugnant to this publisher or the vast majority of its readers. It was the my hope that readers would use the comment section to refute or challenge these outrageous views. That didn’t happen. In fact, serious damage was done.

In the spirit of doing no harm, or more harm, I have removed David’s commentary from the Spy. There are limits to free speech and the stigma he has attached to transgender people crossed a line that I wish I had the sensitivity as both an editor, and a gay man myself, to see the damage it presents to all of us that live in a culture that remains hostile to the notion of being different.

In my desire to find a full spectrum of thought for Spy readers, I failed my own test in judgment. I am horrified by this gap of moral direction.

Since I started the Spy started in 2009, it has been unambiguously supportive of gay rights, same-sex marriage, transgender protection, and, more importantly, we have celebrated Chestertown’s long history of diversity. I regret that David’s column has put this commitment into question.

Dave Wheelan
Publisher and Executive Editor

Letters to Editor

  1. Cyndy Carrington Miller says

    We live in a country these days where the example from the top is to never admit a mistake, so it is refreshing and commendable to read this admission from the publisher. Our publishers are in a quandary in these divisive times, deciding whether or not to give a forum to extreme and uncomfortable viewpoints. Free speech is one of the hallmarks of our nation, and one we all should be most proud of, but one still cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater unless there happens to be a fire. This was a judgment call. It could have gone either way and, in fact, ended up going both ways. But in the end, we all must look ourselves in the mirror and live with the person looking back at us. There are too many forums out there more than willing to share Mr. Montgomery’s opinions. The Spy needn’t be one of them.

  2. Howard Freedlander says

    Free speech is vital, even if inconvenient. It must be protected despite its unpleasant or unflattering overtones at times. When a conveyor of information or opinion targets a person based on gender, race, religion or lifestyle, free speech can become destructive and discriminatory. Though free speech has wide parameters—or maybe none in some quarters—it becomes a hurtful weapon when used to condemn cultural choices. Dave Wheelan has tried to offer a range of opinions agreeable or disagreeable to diverse audiences. As editor-publisher of the Spy, he’s entitled to judge what is suitable, and what is not. I commend use of his prerogative. He made a tough call.

  3. Rebecca Jeffery says

    I didn’t read the column you have written about. While I enjoy the spy, I decided a long time ago to stop reading anything from David Montgomery. I thank you for your stand. We all need to decide what we wish to read and what we wish to publish.

  4. Rob Ketcham says

    I applaud your decision and appreciate your heartfelt statement. Your former columnist probably didn’t elicit much commentary because readers such as myself had stopped reading anything he wrote.

  5. Rod Coleman says

    Thank you.

  6. For the past 4 years it has been my honor to serve as one of the weekly columnists for the Spy. I would say of publisher and editor David Wheelan, that I found in him a fair, even balanced man and tolerant of differences – not tolerant in the patronizing sense – but in the sense of respecting others and their opinions. It was also clear that he held a standard of dignity for what appeared in the Spy.
    I trust his decision was made thoughtfully.

  7. Jim Franke says

    There are many on-line publications that would never accept an article from me about my opinions on Trump. Since they are trying to offer articles of interest to their readers, that is understandable.

    Most of the Spy articles are uplifting, informative, factual, or humorous. And I would guess that defines in some way its readership. Most of Montgomery’s articles do not fit into any of those categories, even if he thinks so. In this latest article the main points could have been made without the hateful comment.

    I don’t think we need to hear more from him – on anything.

  8. I commend Dave Wheelan for his thoughtfulness, sensitivity and judgment, and I believe he made the right call in a difficult situation. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to harm. For this reason, I have begun to tune out David Montgomery’s positions, most of which I find twisted, ill-informed, counter to human sensibility and generally repugnant.

    Well said, Cyndy and Howard.

  9. Forest Hansen says

    I have in the past criticized Mr Montgomery’s Spy commentaries for his bigotry (without, out of politeness, using that word). I have not been sure, however, of how much the Spy editor gives leeway in the published remarks, nor how much attention is paid to comments on the entries, nor how much Mr. Montgomery’s impressive credentials made him a favored contributor. In this case, I was repulsed by his latest, but didn’t want to appear as a regular voice of opposition to him. So I am glad, Dave, that you have drawn a clear line, and I hope it is one you will continue to apply.

    Forest Hansen

  10. Kristen Greenaway says

    Kia kaha. Thank you, Dave. You heard us. And as a gay woman, I stand.

  11. Willard Engelskirchen says

    In our current political climate some seem to feel that they have been given free reign to say whatever they like regardless of how it might affect others. Most people would not describe me as conservative. However, some time ago I googled Conservative Values. Some who claim said values fail to, IMHO, follow them.
    In our society those who claim leadership should be careful in their speech and writing. There is something to be said for discretion and “political correctness “.

  12. David Dunn says

    You caught me in mid-unsubscribe mode. Good catch.

  13. David Lloyd says

    I, too, have decreased the number of articles I would read written by Montgomery. When I would read them, it was because I wanted some sense of how people of a certain political sense are thinking. My reading of fewer and fewer of his commentaries is because a) his rantings and ravings were much, much too long, and b) because his reasoning reflected more and more unreality. I think firing him is a good decision!

  14. Sarah K. Porter says

    Thank you, Mr. Wheelan, for your thoughtful reconsideration and redress.
    On this subject, it would be good to see what kind of studies/analysis are available as to why these shootings seem to occur in more suburban-type schools rather than inner-city schools.
    Even without the benefit of such analysis, it does seem clear that mental health problems – and lack of mental health services and providers – in public schools (and many independent/religious schools as well) is a crisis that demands immediate attention and resources. For every kid on a downward spiral who has access to guns and may become homicidal and/or suicidal, there must be many, many more who are in other ways, “a danger to themselves or others,” and whose suffering depletes not only their own ability to navigate adolescence and school, but that of their classmates as well. My own children during their school years had many peers in severe emotional, psychological and family and/or school related distress, including fear, alienation, anger and worse; I don’t recall that any of them seemed confident that confidential and meaningful help was available within school walls. Even if such help is available, how can teachers and staff identify those students who need it so they encourage participation?
    P.S. None of this is to say that unfettered access to weapons is not the number one problem … it’s just not the only problem

  15. Clark Bjorke says

    I find myself challenged to respond to David Montgomery’s letter to the Spy, defending his previous editorial, which was removed from the Spy due to controversy over it’s content. Unfortunately I did not read the original editorial, regarding the recent school shooting in Colorado, before it was taken down.

    In his letter Mr. Montgomery said, quoting himself in the original post, I believe, “The clear evil is the politicians, ‘educators,’ fashionable psychologists and institutions that are brainwashing teens into gender dysphoria.”

    So what is gender dysphoria? The American Psychiatric Association, in it’s website, says “Gender dysphoria involves a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify. People with gender dysphoria may be very uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned, sometimes described as being uncomfortable with their body (particularly developments during puberty) or being uncomfortable with the expected roles of their assigned gender.”

    As a typical straight white male of a certain age I have never experienced gender dysphoria. It has been my pleasure, however, to get to know a couple of people who have. These people have made the transition to the gender in which they feel most comfortable, and, being my age, did so as adults, after years of suffering and without the benefit of the current thought and methods of 21st century psychiatry. My understanding, from these individuals, is that being transgender is not for the faint of heart and is not taken up on a whim, or because of being brainwashed, but is driven by an urgent inner motivation despite overwhelming pressure from society to conform to conventional gender roles.

    It is true that some politicians, some educators, some institutions and many psychologists are now willing to help a transgender person to attain a lifestyle more in tune with their inner being. This is not because it is fashionable, nor is it evil. Rather it is in response to the real suffering that those with gender dysphoria undergo. Mr. Montgomery has put the cart before the horse, blaming those who are helping to relieve the real psychic agony of those who suffer, for the suffering they are working to relieve.

    Mr. Montgomery has cited the Catholic Church as his authority in condemning those who are “brainwashing teens.” I believe that this is the same Catholic Church that condemned Galileo for discovering that the Earth revolved around the Sun. I do not wish to denigrate Mr. Montgomery’s faith, but I certainly will not submit to the authority of his church, nor should society as a whole.

  16. Al Sikes says

    I too had not read David’s commentary. And while I was just intending to say ditto to Craig Fuller’s excellent piece I decided to add a few words of my own.

    Dave Wheelan through hard work and considerable sacrifice has given our communities an invaluable media outlet. In my opinion this is the best digital channel of information and commentary in the U.S. If there is a Pulitzer category for community online information and commentary services The Spy should receive one.

    I served as Chairman of the FCC and looked at numerous complaints about what people aired on radio and TV. As time went on I not infrequently put on the impervious cloth of the right to free speech–even when Howard Stern used his show to wish my demise. Stern was virtually the only one to draw a complaint by the Commission. The complaint against Stern was because pre-pubescent boys were in his audience and we had a statutory duty to protect children.

    I hope that the open forum Dave has provided will be comfortable for all views and when disagreement animates, this Reply option will be used. In the old letters to the editor days few were able to express contrary opinions. Not true on The Spy.

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  1. […] had no idea that you would have such an emotional reaction to my POV on the Colorado shootings, and had I known I would without hesitation have chosen a […]

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