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Madness at Northwestern: School Paper Apologizes to Activists for Covering Speech by Jeff Sessions

Madness at Northwestern: School Paper Apologizes to Activists for Covering Speech by Jeff Sessions

“We know we hurt students that night, especially those who identify with marginalized groups.”

Northwestern University in Chicago is home to one of the most renowned journalism schools in the country, but it is not immune from campus protest culture and the madness that comes with it.

A recent campus speech by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions led to an absurd and explosive series of events.

Student activists protested the Sessions event, while the student newspaper covered the event in a story, which apparently included coverage of the protest. This outraged the activists who then turned their anger on the paper, which then apologized for practicing journalism.

Dawn Rhodes reports at the Chicago Tribune:

Daily Northwestern staffers apologized for recent coverage of Jeff Sessions visit. Then they drew the ire of other journalists.

The student journalists at the Daily Northwestern have come under fire twice in the past week.

First they were roundly criticized by fellow students angered by how the paper covered last week’s appearance by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an event that spurred tense protests at the Evanston campus.

Then, in an attempt to mend fences, the student editorial staff published a mea culpa on Sunday that has drawn the ire of journalists appalled that the students would apologize for what seemed to be basic journalistic practices.

Charles Whitaker, dean of Northwestern’s journalism school, said social media not only intensified the pressure the students felt about their work but bullied the editorial team at the student-led paper into apologizing.

Here’s an excerpt of the apology from the Daily Northwestern:

Addressing The Daily’s coverage of Sessions protests

Last week, The Daily was not the paper that Northwestern students deserve.

On Nov. 5, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke on campus at a Northwestern University College Republicans event. The Daily sent a reporter to cover that talk and another to cover the students protesting his invitation to campus, along with a photographer. We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night — along with how we plan to move forward.

One area of our reporting that harmed many students was our photo coverage of the event. Some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive. Those photos have since been taken down…

Ultimately, The Daily failed to consider our impact in our reporting surrounding Jeff Sessions. We know we hurt students that night, especially those who identify with marginalized groups. According to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”

Going forward, we are working on setting guidelines for source outreach, social media and covering marginalized groups.

The reaction to all of this by Charles Whitaker, the dean of the journalism school, is right on mark:

Statement from Medill Dean Charles Whitaker

Journalism—when executed fairly, accurately and independently —allows a society to see itself in all its splendor and strife. It often is our only chronicle of the people and events that shape and govern our existence. Conversely, when done poorly or unfairly, journalism can most certainly scar individuals and communities. Indeed, there is no shortage of instances in which journalists have parachuted into settings, particularly those occupied by vulnerable or marginalized people, and provided accounts that were devoid of any sense of cultural competency.

But let me be perfectly clear, the coverage by The Daily Northwestern of the protests stemming from the recent appearance on campus by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in no way beyond the bounds of fair, responsible journalism. The Daily Northwestern is an independent, student-run publication. As the dean of Medill, where many of these young journalists are trained, I am deeply troubled by the vicious bullying and badgering that the students responsible for that coverage have endured for the “sin” of doing journalism…

I understand why The Daily editors felt the need to issue their mea culpa. They were beat into submission by the vitriol and relentless public shaming they have been subjected to since the Sessions stories appeared. I think it is a testament to their sensitivity and sense of community responsibility that they convinced themselves that an apology would affect a measure of community healing.

I might offer, however, that their well-intentioned gesture sends a chilling message about journalism and its role in society.

Greg Gutfeld and the rest of the panel on The Five discussed this yesterday. Dana Perino makes an excellent point comparing this to what is happening in China:

This is all unfolding as the student paper at Harvard, The Crimson, is under fire from activists for covering a campus protest of ICE and then asking the agency for comment. Just this week, the student council at Harvard sided with the protesters.

Why is any of this being tolerated?


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These weak minded “activists” would have loved Pol Pot.

They have successful brainwashed our children that they are mentally ill and everything is a trigger. I should be advising my kids to learn Russian or Chinese. At least they are learning Spanish.

What is going to happen when they are really confronted with a real issue? Do they think the illegal immigrates are going to protect them? Ha. Good luck. I think an adjustment is coming. I sure hope it is sooner than later. I guess this week will be a first tell.

“Why is any of this being tolerated?”

Because it is easy. The school should lose all federal taxpayer money for loans, research, building, etc. as the federal government is effectively subsidizing the suppression of freedom of speech.

Without any negative feedback, tolerance of intolerance is easy, especially for the weak and those of no character. Even my dog understands negative feedback.

I do fear for the future of our country. It cannot be entrusted to this current upcoming generation at this rate. We must take back the schools (well, and everything else).

The future of journalism: Headline: Someone did something to someone else, but it wasn’t you so don’t be afraid

“The reaction to all of this by Charles Whitaker, the dean of the journalism school, is right on mark:”

Maybe so, but he sure screws the pooch in his missive’s penultimate paragraph:

“And to the swarm of alums and journalists who are outraged about The Daily editorial and have been equally rancorous in their condemnation of our students on social media, I say, give the young people a break. I know you feel that you were made of sterner stuff and would have the fortitude and courage of your conviction to fend off the campus critics. But you are not living with them through this firestorm, facing the brutal onslaught of venom and hostility that has been directed their way on weaponized social media. Don’t make judgments about them or their mettle until you’ve walked in their shoes. What they need at this moment is our support and the encouragement to stay the course.”

    zennyfan in reply to guinspen. | November 13, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    I was appalled by that as well. We’re supposed to give these privileged cubs a break because they’re going “through this firestorm facing the brutal onslaught of venom and hostility” on social media? Journalists have gone to jail for reporting the news; some have died. Those constitute a brutal onslaught, not complaints by privileged students safe in their rooms in Evanston. I’m embarrassed as a practitioner of journalism for 25 years that this dean and his students represent the next generation of journalists. If journalism weren’t dying, these people would be killing it.

“I understand why The Daily editors felt the need to issue their mea culpa,” says the dean of a “journalism” school.

Well, I don’t understand

What they shoulda issued, by way of a front-page headline using the biggest font available, is a McAuliffe-inspired taunt,


We have to stop funding this nonsense. Fund online job training and certificates only. If you want to dabble in French poetry, pay for it yourself.

The apology was little more than a snowflake protection plan.

Surely these students could have chosen NOT to read or watch stuff about the visit?

Add Northwestern to the universities that produces unemployable “journalists”.

“Last week, The Daily was not the paper that Northwestern students deserve.”

Some of those students deserve Pravda.

In 1974, I was a “cherub” at NU’s National High School Journalism program. Then editor of my high school paper. Then a staffer at the U of Wisconsin Daily Cardinal. Then worked for three daily newspapers before switching to a finance career in 1990.

Now, I’ll say one thing on behalf of the NU editors: Everyone does stupid things in high school and college. Unfortunately, these days we have the Internet to preserve our cringeworthy moments forever.

And boy oh boy, that was one hell of a cringeworthy editorial. I’ve got no doubt that the dean of NU’s J-school breathed a whole lot more fire in private than he did in his statement. At least I hope he did.

Medill had close connections with the old City News Bureau, a local wire service that supplied coverage of local news to the media outlets there. They were memorialized in a classic movie, “The Front Page.”

City News Bureau was legendary. Very tough place. Their mottoes, passed along to me at that program, were: “Never assume anything” and “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” Verification and facts were right smack at the top of the list, and so was keeping your opinions out of your stories.

It just boggles my mind that those snowflake activists would actually object to being contacted for their views and versions. This is what real journalism is about, as opposed to the fake-o shit that’s become the coin of the realm in Washington and elsewhere.

Folks, you will not likely meet anyone who’s more harshly critical of media practices now. On this blog, the vitriol is politically based, but for me it is not. I am every last bit as much of a hard-ass about it when right-wing media screw up, an example being when “Gateway Pundit” indulged in ungrounded conspiracy crap about the origins of the Notre Dame cathedral fire.

For the Daily Northwestern to apologize for its news coverage of that demonstration shocked me. Never would’ve thought I’d see anyone going through Medill apologize for actual journalism. Props to the dean for pushing back, but frankly I’d have pushed back harder.

I dearly hope that he and others at Medill have been a lot harsher on those editors behind closed doors. If I were an editor of a real newspaper and any of them were applying for jobs, I wouldn’t necessarily exclude them for it, but I assure you they’d have quite a bit of explaining to do, along with a Thanksgiving dinner’s worth of crow to eat before ever getting a job.

My first city editor was a City News alum, and I guarantee you that he wouldn’t have put up with that kind of shit from me or anyone else.

Keep in mind that it was the Chicago LOCAL media, as opposed to the national outlets, that reported the Jesse Smollett fraud. The old-school Medill spirit still lives there.

I dove to the bottom of that pool right away, and smelled a rat from the beginning. It was the Chicago media, using verified sources from within the police department, that busted Smollett. I don’t know how long the ancient ways will continue, but the Daily Northwestern’s groveling cut no ice in the Chicago media.

While the Dean’s statement made some excellent points, at the end it fizzled out by excusing the cowardly PC behavior of the editorial board as just poor students who were being bullied by a PC mob. Balderdash. Actions have consequences, and the signatories to the editorial deserve every bit of opprobrium being heaped on them. None of them have any business being in journalism, and if the Editor in Chief had a shred of decency he’d resign in shame.



i write as a “cherub” who attended Medill’s National High School Journalism program in the summer of 1974, who went on to become editor of his high school paper, a staffer at his college paper, and a professional journalist for three daily newspapers before switching careers.

I was dismayed and surprised, to put it mildly, to see The Daily Northwestern’s craven and quite frankly cowardly apology for committing standard journalism in its coverage of a speech by Jeff Sessions, and demonstrations outside of the venue.

Your reporters did nothing wrong. Quite to the contrary, it is standard practice to seek commentary from those involved, and you know it. The same goes for the photography and identification of people demonstrating in a public place.

Your job is not to avoid controversy, not is it to smother it under a blanket of “empathy.” A newspaper exists to cover the news, and to do so clearly, concisely, and correctly. Period. That’s what I learned at Medill, and I hope they’re still teaching it.

To the “activists” who were offended by reporters seeking their comments, I say: Grow up. Like it or not, you’re going to learn that the world isn’t necessarily what you want it to be. The worst — and most “unsafe” — thing you can do is try to shield your tender, offended souls from the coverage of a speech and your reaction to it.

You would prefer that you not have been asked for your views and versions? I don’t think so. Children of sensitivity and privilege, that sound you hear is people laughing. You too, Daily Northwestern.