Readers of The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, got a surprise in their editorial section--a retraction of an editorial that its predecessor wrote almost 150 years ago. On November 24, 1863, The Patriot & Union, the direct ancestor of the Patriot-News, penned an editorial that panned Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which had been delivered five days earlier. In that editorial, the Patriot & Union dismissed the speech as "silly remarks" that should disappear into "the well of oblivion." As any semi-educated person knows, that assessment was wrong. Bad wrong.
Yesterday, the editors of The Patriot-News felt compelled to issue one of the biggest mea culpas in recent journalism history.
No mere utterance, then or now, could do justice to the soaring heights of language Mr. Lincoln reached that day. By today’s words alone, we cannot exalt, we cannot hallow, we cannot venerate this sacred text, for a grateful nation long ago came to view those words with reverence, without guidance from this chagrined member of the mainstream media.Wow. We've come to know The Patriot-News for its yeoman's work in covering the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, but until today I didn't know that this bad miss by the editorial board was its most infamous moment. How egregious was this? Apparently it ranks in journalistic infamy with WaPo's failure to even mention the "I Have a Dream" speech in its coverage of the March on Washington.
The world will little note nor long remember our emendation of this institution’s record – but we must do as conscience demands:
In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.
Deputy opinion page editor Matthew Zencey describes the retraction as a way to reflect on "what rock heads ran this outfit 150 years ago."
One can only hope that other newspapers have the guts to admit they screwed up at the time. I seem to think of Southern newspapers who vociferously supported Jim Crow and demonized the civil rights movement.