Marin IJ accused of imbalanced censorship


Jacob Weller

A copy of Brandon Johnson’s original article is obscured beneath a label reading “censored.”

Marin is generally believed to be a progressive county. Local activists working to further anti-racism and change systemic injustice argue that this belief is far from the truth. The Marin Independent Journal, or the “IJ,” has been the staple source of local news coverage for decades. They’ve also managed to cause upset with activists through their seemingly biased editing practices, advertising, and choices of publications. 

The degree and manner in which an article is promoted affects readership, which makes sense: humans are prone to click on shiny banners advertising interesting hooks. This concept is fundamental to the vitality of print media; without readership, newspapers are nothing. The IJ has a website with an algorithm to keep your attention and a prolific Facebook page, both designed to help generate buzz around their articles. However, some say a problem arises in how and what they choose to advertise. 

Noah Block, co-writer of an editorial on school resource officers published in the Marin Voice section with 1327 senior, Sophia Martin, explains that the IJ seems to have an imbalanced hand in promotion. Block says that this has been a recurring issue: left-leaning topics, potentially “controversial,” are underrepresented. 

When an article defending the impact of school resource officers (SROs) was published, written by the San Rafael Police Chief, Diana Bishop, the IJ boosted it on their Facebook page. Conversely, when the opposing article written by Block and Martin was published, detailing SRO’s effects on the criminalization of Black and Brown youth, the IJ’s Facebook site plugged their Oktoberfest beer review instead, never promoting their editorial. 

Then, there are the more obvious, visible issues, dealing with the publication’s content choice. While it may sound counter-intuitive, a form of bias comes from over-correcting to make sure coverage is fair and balanced, going so far out of the way to evenly represent two sides on an issue when in fact one may be morally void. 

“[The IJ’s] Op-Ed selection is too two-sided; they give equal or more credence to people who are racist as they do to people working to change the system.” Elias Karkabi, a member of a local group starting a county-wide publication to promote marginalized voices, said in reference to the IJ.

A claim like this deserves hefty evidence, which Karkabi provided. 

Karkabi introduced four articles, three from the IJ’s own staff and one from a local psychologist. All were published in the past six months, ranging on topics from drug rehabilitation, defacement of local statues, affirmative action, and ethnic studies curriculum – all of which were written by white people defending the status quo of racially biased institutions or ideas. They included a slew of acerbic and offensively racist claims: that black and brown drug addicts need to be criminalized to get off of drugs, whereas white addicts don’t (due to stable jobs and social supports); that toppling statues of colonizers is more destructive and painful than racial microaggressions; that affirmative action is unnecessary and effectively racist against white people; and that legislatively enforced antiracist curriculum is heavily “Marxist,” and dangerous “ideological indoctrination.” 

Allowing space for these opinions may be controversial on its own, under the argument that one shouldn’t proliferate views which spread harmful and racist ideology. However, Karkabi explains that the IJ doesn’t simply publish all perspectives: they leave aggressively racist opinions uncensored and then turn around and do the opposite with articles on the left.

“My colleagues submitting op-eds on the progressive front are getting censored to where their messages are dulled and ineffectual, and then they’re not even always being published,” Karkabi said.

Brandon Johnson, an active community advocate for racial justice and an ardent voice of dissent against the IJ’s censorship, experienced this issue first-hand. In July, Johnson wrote and submitted an article to the IJ detailing the racist history of Sir Francis Drake, a colonizer and slave trader and the former namesake of a local high school. Johnson hoped to enhance the name change dialogue by including vulnerable stories of his own experiences with racism growing up in Marin along with unimpeachable facts about Drake. 

Instead, Johnson found that his piece was censored past his comfort level. The IJ edited the narrative of who Drake was, making it seem like Johnson’s proven claims of slave trade were an opinion. 

“The additions of ‘explorer’ and ‘discoveries’ were things I never, ever would’ve written… It’s exactly the narrative I was writing against. I wasn’t made aware of the changes until it was in print,” Johnson said.

The IJ also rephrased Johnson’s personal accounts, diminishing the extent of racial bullying he was subjected to on the basketball court by obscuring the racial slurs he had mentioned in his original article. The publication added phrases to Johnson’s accounts and feelings towards local racism that “softened the impact” – a phenomenon Karkabi and Johnson agree is common, in order to appeal to their base. 

“…the IJ always loves to give a platform to the more conservative-leaning side. Any time an issue is framed, it’s never highlighting marginalized people; it backs the systems that keep people marginalized,” Johnson said.

This isn’t to say that the IJ is a racist demagogue. Media outlets and individuals alike write for their audience and from their surroundings. It’s a fact that Marin is a heavily white community, 85.3% white according to the US Census Bureau. 

So, most of the IJ’s readership is likely well-off, moderate white families. Aggressively anti-racist writing is often considered “risky.” Johnson and Karkabi firmly attest that at the IJ, outspoken anti-racist pieces often get put at the bottom of the stack, are heavily censored, or are simply drowned out by advertisements for the more comfortable perspectives. 

Activists urge community members to hear these claims and understand that while it may be uncomfortable for white people to read accounts of injustices being continuously perpetrated, or critiques of the systems that have worked for us, it’s necessary to promote the voices and perspectives of the marginalized communities in order to work towards a just society. Though it may feel good in the moment, reading media produced to keep the peace or pacify white readers simply continues harmful cycles. This in turn becomes a responsibility for journalists and editors to bear – utilizing their platforms to publish accurate accounts, no matter what the base may be, to inform and begin to heal systemic trauma. 


The editor at the IJ was contacted numerous times to comment on the content in this article, and they declined.