Harvard students demonstrate at the Crimson’s building, continuing to protest the newspaper’s asking ICE for a comment

November 21, 2019 • 11:00 am

I’ve posted two pieces (here and here) about the recent fracas involving the Crimson, the newspaper published by Harvard students—and probably the most famous college newspaper in the U.S.  As you may recall, on September 12 a campus group called Act on a Dream had a rally at Harard that, among other things, called for the abolition of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

After the demonstration was over, the paper, in its coverage, called ICE to ask for a comment—a standard practice in journalism. (ICE had no response.) But that call to ICE enraged many students and alums: over a thousand of them signed a petition condemning the Crimson‘s coverage of the rally, particularly its asking ICE to comment.  That, said the critics, was the equivalent of tipping ICE off about undocumented Harvard students, and of endangering the “safety” of the student body. (“Safety” and “harm” have become the new buzzwords to use when somebody does something you don’t like.)

In response, the Crimson chief editor and its President wrote a joint and levelheaded editorial informing the students that nobody was endangered, and that journalists have good reason to ask those who are the subjects of criticisms or demonstrations for comment:

At stake here, we believe, is one of the core tenets that defines America’s free and independent press: the right — and prerogative — of reporters to contact any person or organization relevant to a story to seek that entity’s comment and view of what transpired. This ensures the article is as thorough, balanced, and unbiased toward any particular viewpoint as possible. A world where news outlets categorically refuse to contact certain kinds of sources — a world where news outlets let third-party groups dictate the terms of their coverage — is a less informed, less accurate, and ultimately less democratic world.

Students, especially the elite and privileged ones who attend Harvard, shouldn’t need to be told this stuff, but apparently they’re not acquainted with how journalism works. At any rate, the editorial wasn’t patronizing, but clarifying, and that should have been the end of it.

But of course this being college, it wasn’t. As I reported on November 11, Harvard’s College Council, the student governing body, then censured the Crimson for its asking ICE for a comment, and, as the Crimson reported then, “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.” The Harvard College Democrats!

In other words, these folks are asking the Crimson to modify its standards of journalism so that it changes its reporting policy depending on the ideology of the group reported on.

And even that isn’t the end of it. Now, in a piece published three days ago, the Crimson further reports that a group of 50 students, including some current and former editors of the newspaper, staged a rally in front of the Crimson’s building to continue the protest against the paper’s simple act of asking ICE for a comment. Click on the screenshot to read the piece:

As the paper reports,

Current and former Crimson editors organized the protest to support a petition demanding that The Crimson apologize for its coverage, cease requesting comment from ICE, and commit to “protecting undocumented students,” according to a Medium post by co-organizer Danu A. K. Mudannayake ’20.

Mudannayake is a well known and vociferous activist at Harvard who played a role in helping get Law Professor Ronald Sullivan ousted as head of Winthrop House because he was on Harvey Weinstein’s defense team, despite Sullivan’s long history of also helping minority and oppressed people. If you look up “woke” in the dictionary, you’ll lilely find the definition illustrated with Mudannayake’s picture. But the article above continues:

. . . The Friday protest coincided with Champagne Showers, The Crimson’s annual celebration of its incoming leadership. Several protesters entered the building chanting “New guard, don’t let us down” and “Champagne won’t wash away undocu voices.”

Mudannayake, a Crimson design editor, declined to comment for this story. Act on a Dream Co-Directors and former Crimson editorial editors Emily A. Romero ’21 and Diego Navarrete ’21 — who were also present at the protest, along with other members of their organization — also declined to comment.

The failure to comment is probably itself a protest against the Crimson‘s policy of asking for comment. What a petulant and childish response!

How current and former editors can demand that their own paper abjure responsible journalistic standards is beyond me. And the signatures on the anti-Crimson petition continue to grow:

Act on a Dream’s petition calling on The Crimson to apologize and change its policies has garnered more than 1,000 signatures as of Sunday night. Fifteen student organizations including the Phillips Brooks House Association, Harvard College Democrats, and Harvard Graduate Students Union–United Automobile Workers have also signed on.

Finally, in an earlier article about the petition, we see a divergence between the views of activists and the views of journalists on how a newspaper should behave. The divergence is, of course, predictable:

Marion Davis, director of communications for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said she understands the perspectives of both The Crimson and Act on a Dream.

“I know the Crimson acted on a desire for fairness, but I have learned [through] experience that getting both sides isn’t always what is fair, especially when one side has already made its views well known through the megaphones of government,” Davis wrote.

Note these words well: “Getting both sides isn’t always what is fair.” Seriously? The Crimson asked ICE to respond to the report of a campus demonstration, which it hadn’t done (and never did) using the “megaphones of government.” Davis is asking here for only one side’s views to be covered. This is an Orwellian assertion that “unfair is fair”.

Thank goodness the journalists weighed in:

At the same time, several journalism organizations said that The Crimson’s decision to request comment from ICE was consistent with widely accepted journalistic practices and did not put any protesters in danger.

Society of Professional Journalists President Patricia Gallagher Newberry said it is “wholly appropriate” that The Crimson contacted ICE to respond to criticisms of the agency.

“You’re not calling ICE to call out an individual person who might be in our country without the documentation required by ICE. You’re simply asking for it to respond in a holistic way to the Abolish ICE Movement,” Gallagher said.

What bothers me is how some apparently educated people can get so offended by the mere existence of ICE that they try to dismantle a bulwark of American democracy: a free press. It bothers me that giving both sides of a story is deemed “unfair” when one of the sides is the government and the other the Offended. And it bothers me that Harvard University, my Ph.D. alma mater, which is supposed to be America’s best school, has some students stuck so far down the rabbit hole that they protest the paper for which they work because that paper is trying to get both sides of a story.

23 thoughts on “Harvard students demonstrate at the Crimson’s building, continuing to protest the newspaper’s asking ICE for a comment

  1. I guess if one has already accepted that the purpose of a university is not to find out how the world works but instead the purpose of a university is to change the world, then it makes sense that students would want the student newspaper to focus on the ICE protestors and their goals (abolishing ICE), and not focus on merely reporting the protest and its circumstances (including the ICE response). This seems consistent with Jonathan Haidt’s contention that one can have Truth University or one can have Justice University, but one can’t have both in the same institution. My university is going through a top-down process that will emphasize equity, diversity, and inclusivity in all of our administrative processes. I look forward to more ways like this in which truth and justice will conflict. Fun times.

    1. The University of Washington currently enjoys the services of a unit called the “ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change”. Its Director boasts as follows: “I have been PI or co-investigator on 13 successful proposals that have brought over $6.7 million in funding to advance women faculty in science, engineering, and mathematics; to address faculty professional development more generally; and to diversify science and engineering and create a more inclusive climate in engineering.”

      This funding (probably from NSF) implies that research grant proposals need no longer contain any science at all: they need only invoke the holy trinity of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in whatever field the grant agency is concerned with. At this moment, we can be sure that specialists in these matters are drafting proposals invoking D, E, and I to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the US Board of Geographic Names, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, the Seafood Inspection Program, and the National Cemetary Administration. 

      1. Yes similar here. A substantial administrative structure for which the best interpretation is that it’s designed to give the appearance of addressing bigotry and misogyny (at a cost of several million dollars per year). At worst, it will result in mechanisms like the inclusion of an EDI officer on faculty search committees to ensure correct thought.

        1. A striking feature of these offices is their
          complete superfluity on their own terms. For many years, every STEM department at my institution and many others has made a point of seeking out female and minority faculty candidates; we do prefer that they be qualified professionally, and of course such individuals are hired, without any intervention by special DEI offices.

          The most charitable interpretation of these DEI offices may be “to give the appearance of addressing bigotry and misogyny”. Another view is that they reflect a simple business plan, or hustle. This view explains the numbers of diversicrats who leave university employment to set up shop as independent “Consultants” in DEI doctrine for local institutions and municipal agencies—a
          function deeply reminiscent of the pardoners in late Medieval times.

        2. A fun wrinkle on these EDI initiatives: the national funding agency for natural sciences research in my country now requires applicants for research grants to show how the applicant will promote EDI in recruitment of trainees (especially graduate students). Formerly the criteria for demonstrating these qualities were focused on gender and race. However, new criteria include sexual orientation and gender identity. My colleagues and I are trying to figure out how we are supposed to ask recruits who are considering joining our graduate program (and who we hardly know) about their gender identity and sexual orientation without coming off as, you know, kinda creepy. These new criteria also specifically say that “equity” is not the same as “equality of opportunity”; instead, equity necessarily includes an effort to redress past injustices inflicted on members of identifiably underserved or underrepresented groups. So my colleagues and I are trying to figure out how we are supposed to go about what is effectively affirmative action (or reverse discrimination) in our recruitment of research trainees. Fun times indeed.

    2. We disagree, there is no inherent conflict here. Insofar as people perceive a conflict that is because they are committed to prioritizing a bias and opposed to acknowledging or confronting facts that they find inconvenient, not because they are prioritizing justice.

    3. Get real. There’s no justice without truth, so anybody attempting to divide the two is no friend of America, the Bill of Rights, or the Constitution. If the Harvard staff had any guts, they’d expel the protesters.

      1. What in the world makes you think either side in this kerfluffle has a monopoly on anything like “truth”? I mean, apart from your opinion.

  2. Even the Catholic Church permitted Galileo to present both sides of the argument in his “Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems” (1632), although the Church was not pleased by the Copernican side of the discussion. Our contemporary woke students are evidently more one-sided in their posture than Holy Mother Church was at the time that it permitted publication of the book.

    Of course, the Vatican eventually (and reluctantly) did put Galileo on trial on suspicion of “holding as true the false doctrine taught by some that the sun is the center of the world”. Imagine what things would be like if our woke students controlled something like the good old Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition!

    1. There is another connection that Bunge pointed out in the “science war”. The charitable interpretation of some pomos and the like is that they are antirealists, just like Cardinal Bellarmine.

  3. “Students…shouldn’t need to be told this stuff, but apparently they’re not acquainted with how journalism works.”

    I find it hard to believe that any more than a foolishly small minority of Harvard students are genuinely confused about the notion of a free press in America. I can’t imagine grabbing a student at random from any of the colleges and discovering that they actually support these shenanigans. I wonder if anyone has done a survey of students to find out just how deep these sentiments go. My guess would be very shallow and probably isolated to one or two colleges. Is there such a survey? If I’m right, Harvard’s administration should treat this affair as a simple case of a handful of radical students and the ordeal would be over.

    1. This.

      I often wonder how many students actually agree with any of these shenanigans and if it’s just a case of a small minority shouting loudly.

      How many students took part in this protest out of the 22,000 Harvard students?

      1. “Roughly 50 students demonstrated outside of The Harvard Crimson’s building Friday to protest the publication’s coverage of a Sept. 12 rally calling for the abolition of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

        50/~23,000 = ~0.2%

        A small minority indeed.

          1. …were actually students….

            grrr..my kingdom for an edit button….

            (this mess of a comment was prompted by the fact that since none of them commented to the paper, how could they know if they were students?)

    2. I suspect that the vast majority are from the social “sciences,” especially new (and to me suspect)areas such as gender studies and post-colonial studies, and, alas, from English departments.

      1. That’s very likely. But then, why should university administrations acquiesce to this insignificant minority at the expense of the entire institution?

  4. Apparently these entitled Harvard students think they have the vision and wisdom to be The Decider™ of who gets to say what in public discourse.

    The arrogance, the arrogance.

  5. I wonder, if some Harvard student (or alum) were to create a counter-petition congratulating the Crimson for their journalistic integrity and professionalism, how many signatures it would get.

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