Thursday, September 23, 2010

In Latest Apology, N-L Backs Away from Satire Reasoning

Having classified Greg Sgammato's opinion piece as satire less than a week ago, The News-Letter has seemingly ignored their first explanation in favor of a full and unreserved apology printed Thursday.

"Publishing these articles was wrong," wrote the N-L. "Without condition, The News-Letter issues its humblest apology."

This is a far cry from what the editorial board published online a couple days after the articles first appeared. While the N-L was willing to apologize for offending people, they did not apologize for its content and satirical intent. There was no effort to defend themselves in the latest version.

"Though we apologize for the harm the article did, we will not apologize for the intent of the article."

They argued then that Sgammato's piece was intended as satire and aimed to highlight societal problems. Thursday's explanation does not mention anything about satire, humor, or social criticism. It leaves readers to wonder if the original explanation of satire was sincere.

The N-L also promised readers that it is undergoing an internal assessment of its procedure in the hope that such mistakes can be prevented.

Oddly, the News-Letter did not write a news article covering the reaction, both supportive or critical, to the articles. When Jayson Blair was caught fabricating stories, sources, and information as a reporter for the New York Times, The Times published several objective news articles about the fallout from Blair's gross journalistic fraud.

Sgammato and Avitia's actions were not in the same nature as Blair's. The N-L will never be in the same league as the Times. Nonetheless, it is troubling to see the N-L not covering an important event on campus. Many students, faculty, and staff read and reacted, some negatively and some positively, to the articles. Reputable national blogs like Jezebel published three posts online. The posts garnered over 50,000 views each and hundred of comments from around the country. This reaction was hardly limited to the Homewood campus. It is troubling to see the N-L selectively cover topics and ignoring significant events. Will the N-L ever report back on the findings of its internal review and the changes it has made? How can concerned readers know that appropriate changes have been made?

They did however give an entire page to letters to the editor, removing its usual editorials. Something noteworthy we have not seen done as readers of the N-L. Publishing such harsh criticism is not always easy, especially for college students who do not have much exposure to it.

The two official explanations after the jump.

 From the Sept. 23, 2010 issue:
In last week's edition of The News-Letter, we published two offensive and insensitive articles. We cannot undo the damage that these articles caused, nor can we excuse our decision to publish them. In light of these egregious errors, The News-Letter retracts the sex column entitled, "Banging under the influence: The ups and downs" and the opinion article entitled, "Local bison bear all at Phi Kappa Psi's annual Lingerave." Publishing these articles was wrong. On this occasion, we failed to meet the standards that our readership and community have come to expect of us. We would like to assure our readers that The News-Letter is currently undergoing an extensive internal review with the intention of identifying and rectifying weak areas of our editorial and production processes.

Without condition, The News-Letter issues its humblest apology.
Less than a week ago:
Last week, in the September 16 edition of The News-Letter, a satirical article was published in the opinions section. The article used cruel and aggressive language to describe women. It was deliberately written as a satirical piece so as to demonstrate a phenomenon of superficiality that exists at Hopkins. Unfortunately, the rhetorical tool employed caused the article to be extremely hurtful to both women and men. Taken literally, the article is at best a ruthless example of superficiality. Taken as a satire, we had hoped the article would be accepted for what it is, a criticism of a depthless, flawed and real culture of thought that persists in the minds of many students. For many, the article achieved no such purpose. It served only as a tool to fan the flames of insecurity. It is on these grounds that The News-Letter issues its sincere apology.

Though we apologize for the harm the article did, we will not apologize for the intent of the article. No person should be subject to insult and harassment because of his appearance. In this vein, it is shocking that students still stigmatize one another on artificial grounds. One would have to look very hard to find a person at Hopkins who has not heard critical and vicious comments about a fellow student's body type. Many people dismiss these statements as jokes of minor consequence; still others embrace these views themselves. All the while, those who are on the other side of these comments internalize them. Beaten up by the inhumanity of words, many even try to conform to some artificial standard of beauty propagated by a superficial mass. We perceived the article in question to tackle this issue. We thought that it put a mirror to the face of perpetrators of mean speech. We thought that these people would look searchingly into themselves and reconsider passing hateful judgment.

In our attempt to allow this article to make a difference and address a major student issue, we failed to fully realize that the article could itself inflict the sort of harm it was intended to chastise. Narrowly, we thought that the obscenely grandiose writing style would clearly convey satire. As a result, we did not fully consider the harm that the article might do. Publishing the piece was without any doubt a mistake. Whereas at the time we thought that the article employed an effective rhetorical tool, we now see that it was inappropriate. If we could do it again, we would have tried to convey the message of the article in a different way. But we cannot. We must live with the consequences of our publication. Opinion articles do not represent the opinion of the newspaper and are labeled as such. That said, it is the responsibility of the editors to make sure that the speech promoted is not hateful. On this occasion, we failed.

Many of our readers have criticized both the author and The News-Letter for being misogynistic. We hope that our explanation and apology will ease their deserved anger. Others will view this editorial as insufficient. For these people, what we have written here will not be enough. The News-Letter hopes, though, that it will demonstrate itself to be a paper committed to excellence and decency in the coming months. Before last week's edition, this paper was one of the best in the country. After last week's edition, we intend to stay that way.

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