A Defense of the Defendant


Introduction (trust me, this is the kind of introduction you should actually read)

Before I begin, I must address my title. Those of you bored enough to be well-versed in my previous writing might notice that it is quite similar to a piece I published last year entitled “A Defense of Satire.” This is intentional, and what I am setting out to do for the Defendant as a whole in this piece is quite similar to what I attempted for our satire column in that piece. Mine is not the only piece of writing to which the current title refers, however. G.K. Chesterton—whom I consider (as should you) to be the greatest thinker of the 20th century—also wrote a series of “Defenses,” vindications of everything from “Rash Vows” to “Humility” to “Patriotism.” This collection of essays, ironically, was entitled The Defendant. I have checked with my predecessors and regret to inform you that Chesterton’s essay collection was not, in fact, the inspiration for our publication of the same title.

Actually—on second thought—from this point forward, I hereby declare that it is. Anything I previously stated to the contrary can henceforth remain our little secret.

While we are discussing the title, I must note that it is quite a fitting, albeit redundant, one. Firstly, in the philological sense, if there is indeed anything in need of a defense, it is a defendant, defined as one “being sued or accused in a court of law,” and the one whom a lawyer’s job is to defend. Secondly, in the more applicable sense, if anything else is in need of a defense, it is a newspaper. Newspapers, like government bureaus, are not inherently good things. All it takes is one look at the tabloids in the Walmart checkout lane to see that. Thus, it is necessary for a newspaper (as it should be with a government bureau) to examine itself periodically, understand its purpose, and, in a sense, justify its own existence. That is what I am setting out to do here. I, like any good lawyer, will do my best to defend the Defendant. Any objections to this defense can be submitted to his honor the editor-in-chief. Oh wait—that would be me. Some might call me jury, judge, and executioner. Hopefully, however, no executions will be required in the making of this article. But enough self-indulgent lawyer humor, let’s get to the case . . . err . . . never mind.

I will attempt to do this by addressing a series of questions I can imagine being reasonably posed against my client, the Defendant.

“What is the Purpose of the Defendant?”

To quote our website, we exist to promote “diversity of thought and healthy dialogue” on the campus of John Brown University. For a full treatise on why this matters, read this.

But for now, I will suffice to say this: In a culture of growing fragmentation and isolation, we need diversity of thought and healthy dialogue more than ever. America is more ideologically divided now than at any time in recent memory.

We have a president whose Twitter feed is more packed with insults than the average Office episode and who has literally called for the regulation or shutdown of news sources he claims are out to ruin him (I am not here to debate whether this claim is legitimate or not, but either option presents a concerning reality about the current relationship between news and politics in America).

And his opponent from the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, has recently stated that “you cannot be civil with [Republicans]” in light of recent events, and that if Democrats “are fortunate enough to win back the House and or the Senate, that's when civility can start again."

Think about that. Civility is no longer a prerequisite for how we engage with one another over political ideals. Civility can only return when we are back in power and they are out.

This division is further reinforced by our obsession with social media. Facebook uses algorithms to populate your news feed with posts you will agree with because such content keeps you coming back to the app. You read this content, merely reinforcing your preconceived notions. You come out more certain than ever before that you are right and that anyone who disagrees must be stupid or evil. The divide widens.

But I am no pessimist. This ever-increasing chasm in the arena of American thought is not irrevocable. It can be healed (albeit slowly) if we are willing to simply, truly listen to one another. To share our opinions with respect and humility. To listen with the goal of understanding, rather than the goal of winning an argument.

In short, I think we should all ask ourselves a question: “Do I truly believe that every opinion I hold on philosophy or politics (or any other topic, for that matter) is correct? Do I really think that I am right about everything?”

If your answer is yes, congratulations. Go get yourself elected president, win the Nobel Prize, and save the world.

But for the rest of us—for those of us who have even an inkling of a notion that we might be wrong about something—diversity of thought and healthy dialogue matter. They matter because we need each other. We need each other’s thoughts and opinions, however different they might be.

In a world that is becoming a collection of disconnected echo chambers, I want JBU to be different. I want JBU to be a place where healthy discussion flourishes. I want JBU to be a place where you and I can freely discuss ideas we may or may not agree on while still maintaining respect for one another.

The Defendant exists to help make that happen.

“Why do we need another newspaper on campus when one already exists?”

First, let me say this. I have great respect for The Threefold Advocate. I am friends with some of their staff members. They produce a high-quality news publication, as attested to by their numerous awards. I read the Threefold, and would not be opposed to writing for them if I were ever asked to do so (by the same token, neither would I be offended if this honor were never bestowed upon a mediocre writer such as myself).

That being said, I will now answer the question: why do we need another newspaper on campus when one already exists?

In the style of my Lord and Savior, I will address this question by posing a different question:

Why do you need two gas stations in the same town?

A basic economic principle rings true in each of these two scenarios: when businesses compete, the consumer wins.

If only one gas station exists in a town, it can set its own standards on the quality and price of the gas it sells because it holds a monopoly on the townspeople’s gas money. If two gas stations exist in the same town, however, they must compete for the consumer’s business by selling as high-quality of gas at as low a premium as possible or risk losing business. Thus, competition drives up the quality of gas and drives down the price, and the consumer wins.

Additionally, a gas station may offer new goods and services not available at the other station to garner new business from their consumers. One gas station may open a car wash, while the other may focus on selling good food inside the station. The consumer wins again.

In a similar way, having more than one news publication on a college campus can only benefit the student body. Both newspapers must engage in healthy competition, creating the highest-quality content possible in order to garner readership.

Furthermore, the two newspapers can present different types of content, much like the two gas stations can offer different services. For example, The Threefold Advocate publishes a biweekly printed newspaper, while our current focus at the Defendant is our online publication. While the Threefold provides quality coverage of local, national, and international news, we maintain a narrower focus on stories and issues specifically related to the JBU community. The Threefold currently offers more in the realm of strictly news content than we do, but we offer other types of content, such as our satire column.

Essentially, when newspapers “compete” on campus for readership, they actually, in a sense, work together to produce a greater range of quality content for the student body than would exist with either paper alone.

Conclusion, and “What is Next?” (in no particular order)

Exciting times are ahead here at the Defendant. Entering our second year of publication, we are thrilled to bring another year of news, opinion, satire, and more to the JBU arena of thought. Additionally, we are exploring and developing connections with outside political and journalistic organizations which help to expand our current possibilities for funding, publication, and readership. We hope to continue growing as a place where students can find and contribute to healthy dialogue on campus.

At this point, I believe that I have defended my client, the Defendant, with average poignancy and quite unparalleled long-windedness. Thus, I rest my case. Any objections or further questions for my client (all of which are welcome) can be submitted in the form of letters to the editor.

Postscript: How Can I Get Involved?

If you are still reading, firstly, I am honored by and impressed with your patience. Secondly, I am thrilled that you are interested in becoming involved with the work we do.

If you want to be a part of our work at the Defendant, we would love to have you. If you like to write, if you are interested in politics, or if you simply have an opinion you would like to share with the community, write us an article! The campus needs your voice.

Want more information? Contact us on social media, email us at defendant@jbu.edu, or, better yet, join one of our meetings, which take place every Wednesday night at 7 pm in WSC 224.

Until then, I bid you adieu in the words of many sages who have gone before me:

JBU, go in peace.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not claim to reflect the opinions or views of the Defendant or its staff members.

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