Every week we publish about 65 written opinion pieces on these pages, plus about a dozen cartoons. That includes the editorials we write (Our View), columns by local and nationally syndicated authors and as many letters to the editor as we can cram in.

Ideally, we would have something to interest almost every reader on a page almost every day. I don’t agree with all of the views we publish, and I can’t imagine the open-mindedness it would take of someone who could. We’re not here to inflame, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if no one ever got their feelings hurt.

But, I’m stalling.

Much of my week has been occupied with the response to just one of those pieces: a column written by Portland attorney Cynthia Dill, in which she criticized an account of workplace sexual harassment that has rocked the world of Maine publishing, in particular a company called the Maine Media Collective, the publisher of Maine Magazine, Old Port and other titles.

READER REACTION

A number of readers have demanded that we stop running Dill’s column, which is something I’m not going to do. (She’s taking this week off, but she’s not in a penalty box.)

I’ll go into the specifics below, but there is one general reason why we’re not going to drop Dill, or, as they say on social media, #dropdill.

One role that newspapers should never give up is our forum for public debate. In print and online, this institution is one of the few places in modern America where people who disagree with each other ever occupy the same space. If we can’t tolerate unpopular opinions, I’m afraid we’ll all retreat even further to partisan corners and reinforce the hell out of people who think like us.

But nobody has complained to me this week about the need for robust debate or diversity of opinion. These readers were angry about a specific column by a specific writer.

 

In her characteristically arch tone, Dill presented a hypothetical: Dill speculated about what might happen if former employee Jessie Lacey had filed a lawsuit against her former boss, Maine Media Collective owner Kevin Thomas.

Dill didn’t think she would have had much of a case. “A reasonable jury could find a furtive drunken kiss in the hallway of a fancy hotel did not constitute harassment and that no reasonable person would expect that acting against their better judgment, as Lacey admits, would bring no consequences. A reasonable jury could boil Lacey’s story down to a very simple narrative: She had too many drinks with a boss she knew to be a scoundrel, was kissed, it was awkward, and later she said it was ‘water under the bridge.’ ”

Passages like that infuriated readers.

Most of them made the point that a woman who comes forward with allegations of workplace sexual harassment does not deserve to be publicly criticized. They were angry with Dill for what she wrote and with the newspaper (and me) for publishing it. “This article is nothing more and nothing less than the victim-blaming of survivors of assault,” a reader wrote. “Dill specifically targets one individual who has been brave enough to share her story, and accuse her of not doing enough … Survivors sharing their stories is a key step in fighting against a culture that is permissive of sexual violence.”

WHAT’S MISSING

I think what a lot of people are missing, though, is that Dill was not attacking a person, or questioning the truth of her story. Instead, she was accepting the facts as alleged and asking, as lawyers will do, “So what?”

That’s not the question I would have asked. I don’t think we have a problem of men suffering terrible consequences for minor sexual indiscretions. I think we have a problem that comes from centuries of men suffering no consequences for almost anything. We don’t have a good way to talk about relative levels of misogyny because we never had to talk about it at all.

But is “So what?” really a question no one can ever ask?

Dill’s opinion is just that – hers. I know for a fact, though, that she’s not the only person in this community who wonders whether legal terms like “harassment” and “assault” are the right way to talk about every level of misconduct. If “So what?” is too harsh, it’s incumbent on the rest of us to have a better answer than “Shut up!”

If Dill was inartful and hurt someone who didn’t deserve to be hurt, that’s bad. If I failed to recognize the volatility of the material I was handling, I’m sorry.

But if we all get so afraid of saying the wrong thing that we end up not being able to say anything at all, we’ve got a problem.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: gregkesich

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