By Jessica McBride Special to Published Apr 13, 2015 at 11:16 AM

In case you missed the kerfuffle, an anti-police (as in get rid of the police altogether) blogger for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Purple Wisconsin project recently wrote what was one of the silliest columns that the paper has ever run (online in this case). 

And that’s saying a lot. Because there’s a lot of competition. But the content of the column and a pastor’s alleged response have overshadowed another issue: Why did the Journal Sentinel censor the post, removing it from its Purple Wisconsin page?

I think that’s wrong. Yes, I’m defending the right of a blogger with whom I almost completely disagree to not have her silly views censored. There’s a principle at stake.

The pastor’s alleged comments to the blogger were utterly repugnant, by the way. We should all stand against Internet abuse of women, and I applaud the blogger for exposing it (the pastor has resigned). Women in the public eye who dare to voice their opinions deal with this kind of thing way too much, and we all need to band against it. It’s time to have that community conversation.

But the newspaper’s censorship has been overshadowed by that story. And I think it should be debated too. On her Facebook site, the blogger, Claire Van Fossen, outright stated that the newspaper pulled the piece because of the backlash. In a news story, the Journal Sentinel’s editorial page editor, David Haynes, stated that the newspaper pulled the blog post because the page is supposed to be a "safe space for thoughtful debate. Unfortunately, that surely did not happen in this case. When a post, reaction to a post or both don’t meet that standard, our only option is to take it down."

That’s a little vague – did they take the post down because they didn’t think it met some subjective standard of thoughtfulness or were they just upset by the comments? I asked Haynes, and he said he didn’t want to say more about it. Haynes is someone I respect, by the way. I think he’s moved the newspaper’s editorial page in a thoughtful and generally reasonable direction. I also think he truly cares about community engagement, and I applaud the fact they’re trying to add more diverse opinion voices into the mix. He’s also been very helpful to my students, even allowing them to observe an editorial board meeting. So this is not an ad hominem attack. Furthermore, I acknowledge these issues are not easy. No one has all of the answers when it comes to the wedding of new technology with news content.

However, I don’t think it was the right decision to pull down the column (although it’s not on Van Fossen’s blog anymore, it does show up on a Google search. I asked Haynes about this, and he seemed to think it was a technical glitch and didn’t dispute that it was still the newspaper’s intent to remove it. It no longer appears on her blog). 

Do you know how many of the paper’s editorials and columns over the years haven’t met some subjective standard of thoughtfulness? Van Fossen put thought into it. It’s just that her column (or blog post or whatever you want to call it) revealed a mindset that was utterly goofy and completely wrong.

Censoring the blog post because it generated nasty response is even worse; it reminds me of Marquette University blaming blogger John McAdams for nasty comments other people wrote. Blame people for what they write, not for what other people write. 

News organizations shouldn’t pull content because some people make threats because of it. If anything, they should stand even firmer behind it. That's true also of this new hybrid of columnist – people they turn part of their platform over to, but who aren't technically staffers.

Also, the newspaper’s standards are completely unclear to the public. 

Have you ever read the comment threads on their crime stories? Then you know what I mean. They allow people to assert questionable facts about people and name call. Some of it gets racist and sexist. I’ve lost track how many times I’ve been trashed on their threads, for example, sometimes in sexualized terms. I’ve read things about myself on their pages that are just false. And I’m not alone in that. 

Furthermore, this blog post became a news story because of the pastor’s resignation. Thus, readers should have a right to read what sparked the hue and cry.

When it comes to her blog post, the paper had to have known what it was getting into when it gave part of its platform over to Van Fossen, by the way. She makes no secret of her uber liberal, anti-system, anti-police views. She’s been involved in some of the recent protests (which is her right in a free country). But her column stemmed from a pretty consistent worldview. She’s waaaaaaay out there.

However, I think she has a right to utter her complete nonsense. I’m defending her right here to be silly.

Think I’m being too harsh about her piece? She argued that society should abolish police. She thinks the police are a tool of oppression and communities should look to other alternatives instead of calling the police or even having police forces at all. She wants to get rid of American police.

Debunking such a nonsensical argument almost feels unnecessary. It’s prima facie absurd. 

However, let me do so for a minute anyway. So women who are raped or subjected to domestic abuse should not alert authorities? In a world without police, what will their recourse be? People whose children are murdered shouldn’t seek societal systemic justice? What happens to people who steal cars? Or shoot people? Does she really think the way to deal with serial killers is to engage them through other alternatives … whatever those are?

What would she suggest we do with someone like Jeffrey Dahmer or McVeigh or that guy who allegedly killed Berit Beck? How about the shooters of those little kids in Milwaukee? Churches or non-profits should handle them? Is that what she’d suggest? A communal hug?

And then there came the news this weekend that a 2-year-old in Milwaukee was struck by a car and killed ... and then the driver and a 15-year-old were shot and killed in return at the scene. This is what happens when people decide they don't need the police or when calling the police has less legitimacy than other recourse.

It’s just silly. And I’d guess that 99.99 percent of Milwaukeeans agree with me on that. Especially probably those who live in challenged neighborhoods and want the cops to preserve their quality of life, to shut down the local drug house, to break up the vagrants drinking on the street corner, and to make sure people don’t rob them. Police aren't the enemy. They get it right most of the time.

Obviously, police don’t get it right all of the time, though (just look at South Carolina). However, obviously, any civilized society needs some form of social control. Police maintain social order. Otherwise, anarchy would ensue. One only has to look at cities like Mogadishu to see what happens when lawlessness reins. She doesn’t acknowledge at all the downside of anarchy in which social control is left to vigilantes and mobs with pitchforks. The rule of law, a system of justice, protects communities. I wonder whom she played in cops and robbers as a kid. She wants to get rid of the cop. Should we just play robber?  

Maybe she should watch an episode or two of "The Walking Dead" to see what happens in a society without central law enforcement or a system of laws (how many creepy new towns can they stumble on in that show?). The world is not full of unicorns, butterflies and rainbows and people who can be talked out of harming others or turned into nice guys with kindness. It’s just a weird argument, and it was awful timing, coming as the state mourned slain trooper Trevor Casper.

But the way to deal with goofy speech is not to censor it (or to write repugnant, threatening emails). It’s to counter it like this: With logic. So, yes, the central argument of this column is that everyone got it wrong: The blogger in her arguments, the pastor for his alleged vile response, and the newspaper for taking it down. Obviously, the pastor’s alleged actions are the worst of it, by far.

As to the pastor’s comments, again, women in the public eye suffer way too much of this vile Internet abuse. I’ll be waiting for the media stories about non-liberal women who suffer from it, though. I was once called the C-word by a liberal blogger. A few weeks later, he was on local media as if he is a credible person. Another blogger said I should be bitch-slapped. And a person with a false name wrote on social media that he’d be happy if I was raped. I’ve been called every name in the book – most too vile to print here. I’ve been referred to in vile sexual terms in political debates.  And that’s just the start of it. I won’t bore you with the rest.

Women get the worst of it (although I bet Christian Schneider’s inbox isn’t too fun to read, either). There’s something about anonymity or the impersonal nature of the Web that brings out the worst in people. It’s time that women and men join together to expose these vile trolls. Ashley Judd recently made a statement by marching into a police department to report Internet abuse. I might have done the same, but my trolls tend to hide behind the cowardice of false identities. So, I applaud this blogger for exposing this abuse because hers allegedly didn’t. But wait – did she call the police about it? Why shouldn’t she? If some guy is writing you and allegedly threatening you with rape – shouldn’t you call the cops? 

The Journal Sentinel should not be in the practice of post-publication censorship that protects bloggers from their own bad ideas especially after they’ve already run. And it sets a terrible standard to take something down because threats ensued.

I think there was a value in publishing this piece, actually. It exposed how truly out there some people really are when it comes to the police. Why sanitize that? This is a real part of Milwaukee. Let us see it. We can handle silly speech. 

Here's a screen grab of the deleted column:

Jessica McBride Special to

Jessica McBride spent a decade as an investigative, crime, and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a former City Hall reporter/current columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.

She is the recipient of national and state journalism awards in topics that include short feature writing, investigative journalism, spot news reporting, magazine writing, blogging, web journalism, column writing, and background/interpretive reporting. McBride, a senior journalism lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has taught journalism courses since 2000.

Her journalistic and opinion work has also appeared in broadcast, newspaper, magazine, and online formats, including, Milwaukee Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, El Conquistador Latino newspaper, Investigation Discovery Channel, History Channel, WMCS 1290 AM, WTMJ 620 AM, and She is the recipient of the 2008 UWM Alumni Foundation teaching excellence award for academic staff for her work in media diversity and innovative media formats and is the co-founder of Media, the UWM journalism department's award-winning online news site. McBride comes from a long-time Milwaukee journalism family. Her grandparents, Raymond and Marian McBride, were reporters for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel.

Her opinions reflect her own not the institution where she works.