‘Bless Your Heart’ item removed from Daily Reflector after LGBTQ hate concerns

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – The executive editor for an Eastern Carolina newspaper is apologizing following the online publication of a hateful opinion against the LGBTQ community.

Bless Your Heart is an anonymous opinion column published both in print and online at the Greenville-based Daily Reflector. The opinions featured include praise, complaints, and other trains of thought about a variety of topics.

In the November 28th online edition of the Reflector available to subscribers, the paper’s executive editor, Bobby Burns, greenlit a Bless Your Heart opinion that shootings against the LGBTQ community are a sign of rebellion against their way of thinking – and that more would be coming. WITN has chosen not to share the entire content of the post.

The backlash against the paper and Burns has been swift both on social media and through complaints emailed to the editor. The column was removed by the Reflector following the concerns.

E-mail correspondence shared with WITN that includes Burns shows that the editor viewed the opinion as “vile and contemptible” but felt it was a responsible action to share with readers the views that exist in the community.

“On rare occasions, I will publish one to clearly demonstrate and remind readers that people in their midst, perhaps their neighbors, coworkers or even friends, harbor such attitudes. I do so in hope that they will remain on guard and fight against it,” Burns wrote in response to one complaint.

Julia Petrasso, a member of the Greenville Jewish community, e-mailed Burns to share her anger with the decision to publish the remarks.

“He did not fully appreciate the extent of what his publication and his choice to publish that piece could mean for the safety of community members and that there ought to be accountability. And whether that’s consequences in terms of subscriptions or whether there’s a resulting incident that inspires a particular person to commit an act of violence that there’s going to be consequences,” said Petrasso.

Aaron Lucier is a member of the LGBTQ community and said that the publication of the comment couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“Only after about a week and half after a club shooting for that to appear in our local paper is shocking and we need to process that,” Lucier said. “That message was sent in from our community and that means that exists in our community. We have to work hard to safeguard and work with the larger Greenville community to educate, continue to advance LGBT issues in the community, and hopefully move forward from this.”

WITN reached out to Burns with a request for an interview but was given a statement instead. The editor acknowledged that he is responding to complaints about the Bless Your Heart that was posted.

“As I said in my response to some of the people who may have forwarded it to you, it was not my intention to amplify this comment but expose the attitude in the hope it would create the kind of conversations needed to address it. In hindsight, it was a poor decision and we are looking at better ways to handle the BYH column in the future given the number of controversial comments we receive. I apologize for the error,” said Burns in an e-mail to WITN.

The editor said that the paper is planning to publish a response to its decision to share the inflammatory opinion and also comment about the future of Bless Your Heart.

The decision by the Daily Reflector to publish that anonymous post has sparked discussions in WITN’s newsroom about media ethics and what should and shouldn’t be amplified.

Al Tompkins is with the Poynter Institute, a non-profit media organization that specializes in ethics and studies the media.

Tompkins, an industry veteran with over 30 years of experience in local news, said that when it comes to publishing things that are reasonably offensive, or even dangerous, we shouldn’t ban them but should treat them very carefully. He adds if there’s a reason to publish, explain the reason.

“What he might have done ethically would be to say look normally we wouldn’t publish something like this but it’s important for you to understand this is the kind of thing that some people hold apparently, and we condemn the idea behind it, but it’s important for you to see what people say,” Tompkins said about the editor’s decision-making. “In this case though, first of all, because it’s unsigned, I don’t think there’s anything about it that’s newsworthy at all because we don’t know who it came from. Now if it came from a person who was a thought leader, a community leader, a person who is a high-profile individual then it could be newsworthy. But, in this case, because it comes from an anonymous person and it’s just basically hate speech I don’t see that it was newsworthy to start with.”

Tompkins said that the editor’s apology on top of the willingness to reassess the Bless Your Heart column is the right direction and said that everyone makes mistakes.