AS soon as a letter to the editor arrives at our offices, it is labeled with a gummed yellow rectangle that bears the words "The Mail." During the past few months we have put such rectangles on more than 300 letters pertaining to George McKenna's cover story "On Abortion: A Lincolnian Position" (September, 1995). Letters about that article were published in last month's issue, and more appear in this month's--and the letters continue to arrive. We have received more mail about this article than about any other in years--more even than about Barbara Dafoe Whitehead's "Dan Quayle Was Right" (April, 1993).
How to characterize the response to McKenna? The best way to assess it, of course, is simply to read the letters column. Whether agreeing fiercely or disagreeing fiercely with McKenna's position--which argued for a tough national anti-abortion strategy that nonetheless leaves intact a woman's legal right to have an abortion--the letter writers by and large offer arguments that reflect careful thought and in many cases passionate commitment. Anger and protest have typically been channeled into vigorous prose. We have read with interest all the letters we received on the McKenna article. We wish we could publish more of them.
And then there were the letters that said, essentially, "Cancel my subscription." We receive a few of these every month, objecting to one article or another, and they always prompt a sigh. The sigh is not because of the loss of income, though we regret losing a subscriber. It is rather because such letters reflect a misunderstanding of The Atlantic Monthly's very purpose.
Ours is not an ideological magazine, like or The Nation--the sort of magazine that might justifiably be punished for "heresy" by an act of defection. We are an invitational forum, not the pulpit of an established church. Only on rare occasions has this magazine published unsigned editorials meant to put forward an institutional point of view--for to do so with any regularity would imply that everything else in the magazine was selected to advance some broader, though perhaps hidden, agenda. Indeed, one essential point of this enterprise from the outset has been to provide a place where diverse perspectives on matters of national importance--perspectives grounded in logic and facts as opposed to emotional rhetoric, and expressed reasonably and tastefully--can get a full public hearing. The founding editors wrote in the first issue of the magazine that The Atlantic would be the organ "of no party or clique." We are strict constructionists with regard to this clause of our constitution.
For the record, we do of course cancel subscriptions when so requested. We also welcome anyone back. --THE EDITORS
The Atlantic Monthly; January 1996; 745 Boylston Street; Volume 277, No. 1; page 6.