Columnists are encouraged to offer strong and often contrary opinions. Their columns are meant to spark a conversation.
And there has been quite a conversation about this week's Margaret Wente column on John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, the two Canadians who have been released from jail in Egypt and are now free to leave, but were under investigation and could not leave the country at the time the column was published.
In her column earlier this week, titled Two Radical Grandstanders, Ms. Wente writes that the two men are hardcore anti-Israeli activists who should have known what they were getting into.
Some readers praised her for taking a contrary view to the news stories and for explaining the background of the two men – information those readers said they hadn't read elsewhere. Others have objected to Ms. Wente's opinion, saying it was unfair to call them grandstanders when they risked life and limb to provide and document medical aid to Gaza. You can read two published letters here.
One line in the column has bothered a few readers who have written to me or to the letters editor. Ms. Wente wrote: "Many of the media haven't mentioned that Mr. Greyson is gay for fear that it would go worse for him in homophobic Egypt. But it's no secret; his sexual orientation is very public."
Here is one letter from a reader: "She goes on to detail Mr. Greyson's sexual orientation while acknowledging that publicizing such could put him in danger in Egypt. Could Ms. Wente not at least wait until the two Canadians are home safely before questioning their freedom of conscience and putting their lives at risk?"
Mr. Greyson's sexual orientation is not a secret. His Wikipedia page makes it clear.
So was it relevant to mention his sexual orientation once he and Dr. Loubani were freed? Globe editors noted that Mr. Greyson's sexual orientation was relevant to the story because he has made it a central part of his political and public identity. He has a long history as a gay political activist and it was not possible to discuss his political or professional background without reference to his sexual identity.
What about the question that it was unsafe to mention his sexual orientation? Globe editors said there were discussions with experts on the region who said the freed man was not in danger because of his sexual orientation, even though he and Dr. Loubani, at that point, were unable to leave Egypt. This was the Egyptian government dealing bilaterally with Canadian consular officials and not a radical splinter group. In addition, had anyone Googled "John Greyson" they would have seen his very public background, they said.
Globe Managing Editor Elena Cherney said: "We refer to sexual orientation only if it's relevant to the matter at hand. Sexuality was related to some of Mr. Greyson's activism, which is why it was mentioned. However, we still need to take care that such references could not be misconstrued as using sexual orientation against a person. The reference to Mr. Greyson's taxpayer-funded, commercially unsuccessful films would have made the point without alluding to them as 'gay-themed'."
I think the problem for those readers came from the shorthand column writing. Once you raise the issue that many in the media haven't mentioned Mr. Greyson's orientation for "fear it would go worse for him," (as Ms. Wente wrote), I think you need to very explicitly answer that question about why you have chosen to mention his orientation. The second part of the sentence was meant to cover that by saying as she did; "it's not secret; his sexual orientation is very public." But to me that still left the question unanswered and was not as clear as it should have been.
One other point. The column refers to Dr. Loubani as "a Palestinian refugee though he was born in Kuwait." It is worth noting that many people have official, UN-issued Palestinian refugee status because they are refugees from 1948 or, more often, 1967. Under international law, refugees in this situation are entitled to claim Palestinian refugee status.
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