Newspaper Controversy of the Day

Wednesday, January 24, 2007
This article, about a column that ran in The Daily Princetonian's joke issue was published in The New York Times today. It always intrigues me when college newspapers become news in major papers, and this is so ridiculous that it seems worth it. (Here is The Princetonian's own coverage)

The column, excerpted in The Times, parodied an ongoing suit against Princeton in which an Asian American first-year student at Yale is alleging reverse affirmative action at Princeton, because he got rejected despite being an all-around good candidate. The column, written in the first person has every Asian stereotype known to man.

As IvyGate put it, "[t]here should really be an award for the student(s) who, every year, think they will be the ones to transcend racism by displaying it in its crudest form. And who, every year, make utter fools of themselves (and learn that irony isn't a defense). So kind of them not to spell it "Orympics."

Spot on. But, what I am really intrigued by, is the editors' note they wrote in response, and that was also excerpted in the NYTimes. The note included this line: "The column in question was penned by a diverse group of students — including several Asians on our senior editorial staff — who had no malicious intent."

Does having a diverse board excuse you from having a sensitive board? On one occasion a quote went to print because, as a Jew, I told my editors at my paper that it was not going to be offensive. I was wrong. People got offended. Rightfully so. In retrospect, we should not have printed the controversial quote which was essentially a throw away line. But we did because a Jew said it was OK.

It's a dangerous road to go down, and is one that risks being common, as newspapers, particularly college newspapers, grapple with diversity and the question of diversity hiring, as they try to make sure that their staff reflects the community they cover.

If minorities on your board become a defense, are they really making your coverage more sensitive and more wide-reaching?

The fact that the Princetonian is hosting an open forum to talk about the acceptance of minorities on campus is more heartening, though I am still wary of activist journalism -- of newspapers making or hosting the news.

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