The Dartmouth Observer

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Monday, October 14, 2002
The Dartmouth Controversy

In the post below, Ryan Samuels says of The Dartmouth: "As far as I know, the leadership of the newspaper made no effort then to consult its staff, a member of which I considered myself at the time, before publishing such politically contentious opinions. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that this editorial board now would tailor the words of a member of its staff to fit an academic leftist agenda." First off, I don't believe The Dartmouth is funded by the college, though it is officially recognized and receives favorable terms for its lease. Mr. Samuels does not understand that editorial boards across the country have no responsibility to seek the advice of their staff when making statements, whether controversial or not. Some papers seek staff's opinions as a courtesy, but this is by no means the norm. The Dartmouth is perfectly in line with the practice of every or virtually every newspaper across American on this score.

Why is this being turned into evidence that "this editorial board now would tailor the words of a member of its staff to fit an academic leftist agenda"? Can someone explain to me how the unedited version of the article was suddenly edited to become raging lefty propaganda? I think the real issue is whether the editors inserted an inaccurate quote. When the unedited version of the article was posted here (where is it now) it did not look substantially different to me (what do you think Chien Wen?) What is the egregious leftist cause here?

Emmett Hogan on comes close to some rationale about how the story was slanted with this comment about President Wright: "He's worried because the petition only mentions Jewish kids, and what about those poor Muslims? He would willingly sign it, if only itall of the Left's favorite groups, and not just Jews!" Since when should caring about Jews and Muslims evidence of being on the left? If this is true, it's an indictment of conservatism and the mainstream center for not caring about these groups, not the left for caring about them. I bet that had the petition been about violence against Muslims, The Review would have protested it on the same grounds that Wright reportedly refused to sign it for, namely that it didn't mention all groups affected. (I see the
headline and argument now if Wright would have signed any such petition: Wright panders to one favorted minority group, showing hypocrisy of liberals) incidently, would The Review think not signing the petition was the right thing to do? Do you all?

I fully agree that The Dartmouth has a lot to answer for in its journalistic practices, but let's make sure we criticize them for the right reasons. Here are my somewhat incomplete thoughts on this. Andrew Grossman on notes that The D has to make no apologies for editing a writer. I applaud the consistency of The Review here, for not preaching against what it practices. Not all publications operate on this principle that the writer must see all changes. But I will note that The Dartmouth Review has been called out for much more extreme editing, such as adding bylines where an author had nothing to do with the piece. But in the context of seeing the unedited versus the edited article, Vassilia Binensztok's complaints need further explaination and justification. If The Dartmouth has operated under the understanding that it will edit within reasonable limits, I don't see where the complaint is, at least here. There can be no absolute principle that every single change, including the placement of commas and the arrangement of paragraphs, has to be sent to the writers for approval. But editors can exceed their mandate as well and it be tough where to draw the line. I have never worked in daily journalism, but in magazine journalism where I have worked, even under deadline pressure, you send any substantive changes to the article back to the author (or at least to outside contributers) for legal reasons at least. The truth lies between what The Review has done and what idealized world people have drawn from the statements of The former D reporter Vassilia Binensztok.

Part of Vassilia Binensztok's complaint seems to be that she never saw the final version and is being unfairly smeared and if it were true that bad facts were inserted into the article, I can understand why she feels upset and would disassociate from the article. I'm curious whether Vassilia's previous articles been sent back before press? In this case, I want to understand why the writer feels this way, when the editing arguably appears to be part of a normal editing process for any daily paper. Of course, if the facts that are inserted into a story are not facts, that is a problem. That's a fact-checking issue and larger institutional issue. One way to possibly deal with that is to send changes back to the writer, but there are additional ways as well (like not having editors who would insert incorrect facts, if that is the case).

Now is the story distorted? Are there misquotes? I don't know... Seeing the unedited version gave me no reason to believe so. (Can anyone point to the details between them that suddenly made this story different in its point?). I was inclined to believe the reporter has a complaint; now I want to know why the reporter feels the edited version was changed so drastically, because my quick glance when it was posted here did not catch those major differences. I changed my mind when presented with evidence of the unedited version of the article, so I admit I’m only going on what I know. I am open to changing it if presented with more details. Unlike my first impression, I now can have some understanding why The Dartmouth said Vassilia would have to apologize or be fired. That doesn't mean The Dartmouth should not use this opportunity to look at their procedures, which in my experience have led to bad reporting in other cases.

P.S. I thank John for his response on postmodern conservatism. I will get around to responding after my midterm, but in the mean time, I will note that he didn’t address any of the examples I gave of how the U.S. government uses race as a category (such as in enforcing civil rights law, measuring racial profiling, the Voting Rights Act, and in regard to Indian reservations). Does John think those things should be stopped? If he doesn’t, how does this square with them with his philosophy of transcending race