Harvard’s undergraduate council censures the College newspaper asking ICE for a comment after a demonstration

November 11, 2019 • 1:00 pm

As I reported in late October, a Harvard group called “Act on a Dream” staged a demonstration on campus calling for the abolition of the U.S. government’s directorates of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security. After the demonstration, reporters for the undergraduate newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, called ICE asking for a comment.

This simple request, de rigueur for a newspaper (ICE didn’t respond) seriously upset many students, who argued that with this simple request—made after the demonstration and not revealing the names of any undocumented immigrant students—the Crimson was endangering people. A petition damning the newspaper for its request to ICE garnered over 650 signatures. At the time, I quoted from an earlier Crimson article:

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.”

The last paragraph is pure malarkey: nobody tipped off ICE about the demonstration before it happened, nobody’s name was revealed to ICE, and nobody, much less the student body itself, was endangered. I can explain the petition only as a result of ignorance about journalism, a misguided gesture of virtue-flaunting, or a nexus of both.

The climate got so bad that Angelu Fu and Kristine Guillaume, the Crimson’s managing editor and its president, respectively, wrote a “Note to Readers” explaining to the befuddled students how journalism works, helpfully adding that the Crimson’s request for a comment from ICE was not only normal, but didn’t endanger a soul.

You’d think that would be the end of it, right? If you did, then you don’t understand the climate at colleges like Harvard. As the Crimson reports today, Harvard’s Undergraduate Council, the student governing body, voted (15-13-4) to implicitly condemn the paper for endangering students and the student body. Click on the screenshot below to go to the Crimson’s new piece:

The article starts with the statement of the Council approved by the vote given above.

“The Undergraduate Council stands in solidarity with the concerns of Act on a Dream, undocumented students, and other marginalized individuals on campus,” the statement reads. “It is necessary for the Undergraduate Council to acknowledge the concerns raised by numerous groups and students on campus over the past few weeks and to recognize the validity of their expressed fear and feelings of unsafety.”

The “concerns” are about the Crimson‘s request for a comment to ICE. We know this because of what the article reports further:

Members of several campus groups including Act on a Dream and the Harvard College Democrats have instructed their members not to speak to The Crimson unless it changes its policies. [JAC: presumably the paper is supposed to deep-six its journalistic policy of asking for comments from those attacked or criticized.]

. . . “We think it’s really important that we amplify student voices on campus, especially those that are often marginalized,” [Oak Yard representative Ethan] Johnstone said. “We’re not attacking The Crimson at the same time. We just think they need to come together and come up with a sensible solution.”

Solution to what, exactly? To the problem of offended students who don’t understand how newspapers work?

The article continues with a recognition that the vote was a criticism of the newspaper coupled with a hypocritical statement by the UC Vice President that it was not directed at what the newspaper did.

Some council members, such as UC Vice President Julia M. Huesa ’20, said they are concerned the vote may be construed as “commenting on what the press does” and an attempt at censorship. Other students, such as Elm Yard Representative Phillip Meng ’23, called the statement “vague” and said they are not sure exactly what stance the statement is taking.

In addition to its statements directed at The Crimson, the UC’s statement includes actions that the council may review to formalize and expand its support for undocumented students, including leveraging media interaction training resources.

If the statement is vague, it reflects the cognitive dissonance in the Council between supporting undocumented students on one hand and, on the other, recognizing that there’s something not quite right about attacking a newspaper for simply asking for a comment from ICE. But of course if the attacked group had been one approved by the Woke, the students would have demanded that the paper ask for comments.

Oy vey—my alma mater!

Here’s the only comment, a sensible one, at this writing, though a bit misguided since the Council’s concerns were clearly about the newspaper.

The last paragraph is true—and sad.

17 thoughts on “Harvard’s undergraduate council censures the College newspaper asking ICE for a comment after a demonstration

  1. I used to be a college newspaper reporter and editor. If some student government hacks pulled something like this in my day, I, and all my colleagues, would have told them to go f**k themselves. Are kids different nowadays?

      1. Good for them. That’s how we would have handled it back in the day, and I’m glad to see that kids these days can take care of themselves.

  2. The constant flow of dismal stories like this makes me, who has attended four colleges and universities, relieved to be no longer connected with academia.

    There are other, better ways to pursue knowledge.

  3. Don’t these idiots realize that if the boot was on the other foot and the move was to abolish an organization of which they approved then they would want its response to that included in the newspaper report?

  4. ““In this political climate, a request for comment is virtually the same as tipping [ICE] off, …”

    So do the students want a protest that no-one in authority knows about?

    In that case the protest is merely virtue signalling, rather than a serious request for action.

  5. The students’ objection to soliciting a comment from ICE makes perfect sense. Had ICE responded with a comment, the students would have been in mortal danger of having to read something and think about it for a minute. Why, that would be even more terrifying that exposure to a non-woke speaker or even (shudder!) professor.

    In reply to Comment #1 above—why yes, it
    does appear that kids are different nowadays. Jonathan Haidt and others have speculated on the psychological origins of the change. Haidt might have a point, but I suspect the change involves the academic world itself, and reflects the sociology of the PoMo hustle
    going back at least 30 years.

  6. I never had any illusions about the other students when I was there (I commit the shame of work, and the shame of associating with homeless and street people…. you know… my friends), but things are going to the point of absurd.

    The antonym of journalism is not censorship, and it is most assuredly not ‘safety’. It is propaganda.

  7. Meanwhile at Northwestern, endless mea culpas from the campus newspaper for publishing photographs of a public protest:

    “One area of our reporting that harmed many students was our photo coverage of the event. Some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive. Those photos have since been taken down. On one hand, as the paper of record for Northwestern, we want to ensure students, administrators and alumni understand the gravity of the events that took place Tuesday night. However, we decided to prioritize the trust and safety of students who were photographed. We feel that covering traumatic events requires a different response than many other stories.”


  8. “It makes them sound like advertising brand managers or kindergarten teachers”.

    Holy hell! Are kindergarten teachers really that brainless? I had hoped that (ideally) kindergarten teachers would be possessed of a healthy dose of worldly common sense, able to tell reality from the childish imaginings of their three-year-old charges. If they can’t do that, what are they there for?


    1. Interacting with my share of K-5 teachers, the quote is a slam against Kindergarten teachers. They strive to take up the slack let out by certain parents. The comparison of some of these college students should rather be with certain obstreperous, “oppositionally-defiant” (per the current descriptor) K-5 students. And certain middle school students? “Get thee hence, Satan.” “OOOUUT Spirit!”

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