Monday, November 19, 2007

What’s a newspaper column for?

Last Saturday I posted What "lynch mob" at Duke?

The post concerned a quote attributed to Duke professor Michael Gustafson published in a column in The Chronicle (TC), the school’s student newspaper. ( Physician, Heal Thyself )

That post and conversations I’ve had and overheard since the TC column appeared prompted me to revisit an October 29 post, Duke Now Quiz # 3.

In this post I want to tell you a bit about the Oct. 29 post and some follow-up I did concerning it. I’ll end this post with some comments

In the Oct. 29 post I noted an error Duke professor Karla Holloway made in an op-ed (Come on, Cosby: Lay off talk about race ) published Oct. 25 by the Orlando Sentinal.

Holloway referred to Harvard Medical School professor Alvin Poussaint as a “psychologist.” He’s in fact one of America’s preeminent child psychiatrists.

I thought to send Holloway a link to my Oct. 29 post which contained links confirming Poussaint's a psychiartist.

But Holloway’s never responded to any email I’ve sent her. I don’t know if she even reads them.

So I called the Sentinal’s public editor, Manning Pynn, to ask about a correction.

I got Pynn’s VM, left the information in my post so he could fact check, and asked for a call back.

When Pynn called he’d already fact checked. He apologized for the error and said the Sentinal would ask Holloway to make a correction.

Fine. But what if a columnist/op-ed writer declines to make a correction? Then what?

Pynn said the Sentinal then goes ahead and makes the correction anyway because – and this is not an exact quote but a close paraphrase of what Pynn said – a column is a place for opinions; not a place to misstate facts.

Pynn went on to say just about all newspapers take very seriously their responsibility to get the facts right and to quickly admit errors when they make them.

I politely disagreed with that but commended Pynn for the Sentinal’s standard. We ended the conversation with good words for each other.

I didn’t do anything further about the correction until today when I went to the Sentinal’s online Corrections Section. Among the Nov. 1 corrections I found:

Commentary on Page A15 Oct. 25 about Bill Cosby's book Come On People misidentified his co-author, Alvin Poussaint. He is a Harvard University psychiatrist.

Message to editor Pynn and the Sentinal ( a Tribune Co.): Thank you for the correction, and thank you, Manning Pynn, for the time you spent with a blogger from outside the Sentinal's circulation area.

Folks, I plan to send Pynn a link to this post along with good wishes for Thanksgiving.

There are two letters in TC today.

One is by Ken Larrey of Duke Students for an Ethical Duke (DSED), the organization which was referred to in the quote about which I posted last Saturday.

Larrey deals with matters that are very important but which I didn’t touch on in my Saturday post.

I mention his letter simply to call it to your attention. At some future time I may comment on its contents but not now.

The second letter is from Professor Michael Gustafson clarifying the quote which appeared in TC column. I urge you to read it and commend Professor Gustafson for clarifying.

We all know there are few things a professor could say about a student group more derogatory and inflammatory than to call it “this lynch mob.”

But we still don’t know why TC editors published a quote attributed to Gustafson referring to DSED as “this lynch mob.”

Out of respect for its readers and in simple decency to Duke Students for an Ethical Duke, The Chronicle needs to explain why it failed to fact check the “this lynch mob” quote.

And it shouldn’t be too much to expect The Chronicle to apologize for not doing so.


Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Professor Gustafson's letter in today's Chronicle makes clear that Elliot Wolf, in his over-the-top attack on Ken Larrey, seriously misquoted the Professor.

Wolf assumed a tone of righteous denunciation in that editorial, but did a righteously awful job of providing supporting facts.

From here, it looks like Wolf is joining an attack orchestrated by the Chronicle against critics of the Duke administration. The articles of just the last week, praising the Brodhead regime and attacking its opponents, make the Chronicle begin to look like a house organ instead of an independent news purveyor.

Mr. Editor-in-Chief, come clean. Are you gunning for a job at CNN after graduation, and using your present position as a rehearsal for more slanted news of the sort we got from last Thursday's Democratic debate with its scripted, hand-picked, oh-so-spontaneous audience questions?

Anonymous said...

Prof G is a friend to all students at Duke. He cares about the students.

Agree, E Wolf and his political aspirations have tainted Wolf's written opinions about Duke's actions.

One hopes that, E wolf, deep inside, know right from wrong.

The Chronicle has become a huge mouthpiece for Duke Admin.
So much for journalistic independence.
(another one bites the dust)

Anonymous said...

Prof. G. is trying to have it both ways now.

Wolf and The Chronicle knew what they were doing.

John let them off easy.

The DSED students were smeared.

But at least nobody at Duke said they should be castrated or indicted, right?

That will be 40K, Mom and Dad.

Anonymous said...

What I didn't understand about this dust up was that Wolf had done an exstensive series about the abuses of Duke's student "judicial" system? Perhaps I misread. It would seem he and DSED would have a sort of common purpose...student rights/ethical Duke... but obviously I missed something.

Anonymous said...

John - this is so sad. Read where the black middle class is falling. A good percentage of the middle class children are doing worse than their parents. Bill Cosby is right - what to do to help them???

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

It appeared from Elliot Wolf's series on the student 'judicial' system that his concerns were well justified, and that various Administration hacks had one by one rolled back all the 'due process' features that stood between their arbitrary diktats and any accused student.

His hatchet job on Ken Larrey and DSED was apparently done in great haste, and lacked the clear evidence he provided in the jucicial series.