Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Where is the balance?

The Hatchet ran a story on Monday on the controversy that has erupted on campus over the selection of Julian Bond as Commencement Speaker. Frankly, I believe that the Hatchet has greatly overstated the concern over the selection of Mr. Bond, but that is the topic of a different blog post.

What struck me about the story is the lack of balance. The Hatchet devotes ample space to the efforts of a single student to organize a petition opposing Mr. Bond’s Commencement Address. The Hatchet gives even more space to quote Sergio Gor – a well know right wing extremist on campus – who encouraged students at the recent Karl Rove address to consider that their commencement address.

But, no where in the article do they offer any sort of counter position to these campus conservatives. They did not ask the College Democrats to comment, and to the best of my knowledge, did not ask any other progressive group on campus for their take. More strikingly, they do not even acknowledge that in their previous edition, the College Democrats expressly disagreed with the protests of campus conservatives, writing:

First, let us firmly state the position of our organization: We do not, and will
not ever, consider a few blunt quotes sufficient to outweigh the lifetime of
service Bond has given to his country and to the American people. We are proud
that our University will be giving Bond an honorary degree and our graduating
seniors believe Bond's consistent stand for justice is at the very heart of what
their time here at GW has taught them and what they will take out into the
world.


What’s more? The College Democrats were asked by Alex Haimann, the senior with the petition opposing Bond, to join in his effort, but declined to do so because rather than opposing Bond’s invitation to commencement, we welcome it. (I say we because I am the Vice President of the College Democrats.)

Finally, I would not the irony of some of Gor’s holier than thou statements to the Hatchet. Gor told the student newspaper, “The University has labeled this event as the anniversary of MLK's speech, but Julian Bond is no MLK," Gor said. The hatred that he preaches is not accepting like MLK. It's utterly unacceptable." This comes at the same time that his organization circulates a petition (different from the Bond one) that attacks Islam and encourages Muslim Students groups to denounce parts of the Koran!

The Hatchet has a responsibility to report both sides of the story – not just the half that is thrown in their faces by campus reactionaries. That is the point of journalism: to dig deeper and uncover the underlying truth.

Write to the Hatchet at letters@gwhatchet.com. Tell them that they should present both sides of every story!

9 comments:

Xavier said...

The story was that certain students and groups are opposing a University decision. The balance was comments from three University representatives refuting the groups claims and supporting Bond.

The story was not about a dispute between College Republicans and Dems so it did not require College Dems response which has already been published.

GWBlogSpotAdmin said...

Xavier. Is it your belief that a response "previously published" represents balance in general (regardless of this specific circumstance)? Or would a good journalist not rely on readers happening to see past articles or letters, and instead make sure the individual piece they are working on is balanced?

Xavier said...

IF the article was about the CR attacking the CD then yes the CD need an opportunity to respond.

In this case the attack was on GW from a variety of groups and GW was given the opportunity to respond with three people quoted.

GWBlogSpotAdmin said...

Got it. Thanks for granting that point.

Now onto the bigger point. There's a larger media critique at play. To draw a simple analogy, if Al Gore was the speaker, and some crazy global warming denier group protested, would it be legit for a journalist to treat them as if their global warming denial views were worthy of 50% of the news space and quotes...when they actually represent 1% or less of scientists? Most objective people would say no. But often, the media gets coyed into buying into fringe framing of issues...covering those with extreme/minority points of views as if they are worthy of 50/50 treatment...all in the name of "balance." So, the issue posed here (regardless of whether you agree with the ideology) is that there's a fringe group on campus that the Hatchet is falsely legitimizing by giving them 50/50 coverage.

If your argument is that they are not fringe, and they represent half the campus, then make that argument.

But if you're just accepting the roughly 50/50 treatment, and quibbling about the suggested alternative sources, you aren't getting the issue.

wayne brady said...

Wasn't there an opinion article published yesterday that told everybody to chill about this non-issue?

Shannon said...

The conservative voice on campus is not "fringe" by any means. I think comparing them to a "crazy global warming denier group protested" is vastly underestimating their number and presence on campus.

The first poster is correct when he noted the story was not about CRs v. CDs but the CR response to the university's choice.

Xavier said...

In this case I don't see those against Bond to be a miniscule fringe group like climate change deniers.
They may not be 50% of the GW pop either but I think they have a somewhat legitimate point that should be heard and the University should be given the opportunity to respond.


Regardless your original point was the Hatchet was not balanced since they did not include the CD's response in the article. My point that the other group (administrators) was given the opportunity to respond stands.

GWBlogSpotAdmin said...

Xavier,

Great, thank you.

You don't think that a group that's challenging the president of the NAACP speaking on campus is fringe.

Or, more specifically, you're saying that a group is not fringe whose solution to "racial epitaphs" on campus is to "unite the campus, not divide it" by dis-inviting the president of the NAACP to speak.

At least now there's an honest debate. Thanks for your honesty while posting on the site.

Big Tuna said...

There are many of us that are suspicious of any University policy, particular those that are seen as politically correct means to link a perceived gap in race relations.

I know that's hard to swallow for Democrats and Republicans alike, as identity politics are very important to their perpetuations as institutions.