Because of the curfew in Valparaiso, I can’t go outside after 6 pm, and even during the day the town is dead, with most of the businesses shuttered (perhaps in fear of rioters or because business is slow). In short, I have some time in the evening to post. This will vanish when I board the ship.
And so to the matter at hand.
According to this “note to readers” in the Harvard Crimson, penned by the paper’s managing editor and its president (click on screenshot), Harvard’s students have their knickers in a twist. Why? Because the paper asked the targets of a recent student protest to comment for the story. It was simply the paper’s asking for a response that got the students upset. Read and weep:
Excerpts are indented:
Last month, The Crimson covered a rally organized by campus group Act on a Dream that called for the abolition of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. During the course of our reporting, Crimson reporters requested comment from ICE — a decision that has proved controversial with many of our readers. We stand behind that decision, and we wanted to share with you our thinking.
And the second link, to an earlier Crimson article, says this about the “controversial” nature of the Crimson’s request for ICE to comment:
More than 650 people have signed onto an online petition condemning The Harvard Crimson’s coverage of a protest demanding the abolition of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The petition — started by student-led immigration advocacy group Act on a Dream earlier this month — criticizes The Crimson for requesting comment from an ICE spokesperson for its Sept. 13 article, “Harvard Affiliates Rally for Abolish ICE Movement.” The article covers a Sept. 12 protest hosted by Act on a Dream and quotes several students’ criticisms of ICE, including calls for its dissolution. The article notes that ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“In this political climate, a request for comment is virtually the same as tipping [ICE] off, regardless of how they are contacted,” the petition reads. “The Crimson, as a student-run publication, has a responsibility to prioritize the safety of the student body they are reporting on — they must reexamine and interrogate policies that place students under threat.”
Virtually every claim in the petition is wrong.
Fu and Guillaume’s explanation/apologia patiently explains the need for contacting ICE and also tells the offended students that nobody was endangered or outed, and nobody was “tipped off”:
. . . we seek to follow a commonly accepted set of journalistic standards, similar to those followed by professional news organizations big and small.
Foremost among those standards is the belief that every party named in a story has a right to comment or contest criticism leveled against them. That’s why our reporters always make every effort to contact the individuals and institutions we write about — administrators, students, alumni, campus organizations, and yes, government agencies — before any story goes to press. We believe that this is the best way to ensure the integrity, fairness, and accuracy of our reporting.
. . . After the protest had concluded, but before the story was published, The Crimson contacted an ICE spokesperson to ask if they wished to provide a statement in response to the protest.
Let us be clear: In The Crimson’s communication with ICE’s media office, the reporters did not provide the names or immigration statuses of any individual at the protest. We did not give ICE forewarning of the protest, nor did we seek to interfere with the protest as it was occuring. Indeed, it is The Crimson’s practice to wait until a protest concludes before asking for comment from the target of the protest — a rule which was followed here. The Crimson’s outreach to ICE only consisted of public information and a broad summary of protestors’ criticisms. As noted in the story, ICE did not respond to a request for comment.
The Crimson behaved absolutely properly here; it acted as an observer rather than an advocate and then reached out to ICE to see what they had to say. As I would have expected, they said nothing.
The students, of course, have every right to have a protest, and they have the right to publicly criticize the newspaper for asking the target of the protest to comment, misguided as that criticism is. But, as Bernie Sanders says, let’s be clear about this. The student pushback to the paper bespeaks a complete ignorance of how responsible journalists work. It’s even more distressing because this is Harvard, for crying out loud. Haven’t the students ever opened a newspaper to see how reporting works?
What we see here is that students no longer expect journalists to be journalists; they expect them to be advocates, and advocates for the students’ political agenda. This is not unique to Harvard, for more and more I see journalism in mainstream papers like the New York Times creeping closer to the boundary between reporting and advocacy.
This is a dangerous line to cross. By all means papers should proffer editorial opinions about matters of the day, but there must be an impenetrable wall between opinion and straight reporting. Once that wall is breached, the very function of journalism in a democracy is seriously endangered.
I left a comment below the Crimson article, but I’ll omit that from the ones I show below (there are several more; the piece above was the most-read article in yesterday’s Crimson). The last reader’s comment is by way of explaining why the students seem so obtuse, and I added it for balance and for those who, unlike your curmudgeonly host, are more forgiving of student misbehavior.