Vassar College Student Newspaper Apologizes Because “The Majority of Our Quotations Came From White Students”
News coverage of planned student speaker disruption taken down because “[t]he majority of our quotations came from white students and … the paper decided to remove the article online in an attempt to prevent further harm….”
The Miscellany News is the student newspaper at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. In my rather expansive coverage of Vassar over the years, I’ve often relied on reporting by The Miscellany News as to campus events. While the quality of the reporting has varied, it’s generally been okay.
On February 27, 2022, I wrote about how Facing Threat of Student Protests, Former DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson Withdraws As Vassar College Commencement Speaker. Johnson was selected as Commencement Speaker in part because his deceased father was a beloved long-time professor at Vassar. At a superficial level, the story was about student intolerance and cancel culture, including plans to disrupt Johnson’s appearance, leading Johnson to withdraw:
[Inviting Johnson] was a nice and generous gesture. But it is not to be. Woke colleges can’t have nice things anymore when students take offense….
Yes, technically Jeh made the decision to withdraw, he wasn’t fired or barred from the slot. He was put in an untenable position, however, selected to honor his father, yet his appearance would be the subject of protests and distruption that would take away from that honor. Terrible…
You won’t be able to watch Jeh Charles Johnson’s Vassar Commencement speech. It won’t happen. Vassar can’t have that nice thing.
But there was another aspect of the story that was more troubling. The original article posted by The Miscellany News documenting student objections to Johnson and disruption plans was pulled down from the website not long after posting, but not before local media quoted it. I wrote [emphasis added]:
Oddly, the Miscellany News article quoted by WPDH was taken down from the website (after it also ran in print) and the link redirects to the Miscellany News home page. An email to the student newspaper seeking an explanation for the takedown and redirect received this response: “Thanks for reaching out. We found some factual inaccuracies in the article due to quick reporting, and we want to take time to address them thoroughly. Best of luck with your work.” As of this writing, they have not responded to my request for details as to what was inaccurate and why they didn’t just issue a correction.
The claim of “factual inaccuracies” leading to taking down the article was made in an email exchange between me and Janet Song, the Editor-in-Chief of The Miscellany News:
Sun, Feb 27, 5:12 PM
I’m writing about the withdrawal of Jeh Johnson as commencement speaker. I see that one of your articles no longer is on the website and the original url redirects to the home page, not an error page, which to me indicates a redirect was added. It’s still in the Wayback Machine, but I’m wondering why it was taken down and a redirect instituted. It’s possible I may write about this as soon as tonight (not certain, but possible), so if you could get back to me quickly that would be appreciated.
William A. Jacobson
Legal Insurrection website
* * *
Feb 27, 2022, 7:19 PM
Thanks for reaching out. We found some factual inaccuracies in the article due to quick reporting, and we want to take time to address them thoroughly. Best of luck with your work.
* * *
Feb 27, 2022, 7:23 PM
Can you tell me what the factual inaccuracies were, and why you didn’t just issue a correction?
I never received a response to that last question asking for identification of the alleged factual inaccuracies.
The claim of “factual inaccuracies” for the article being taken down appears not to have been true. Today The Miscellany News published an apology for the article with an explanation that points to no inaccuracies.
Rather, according to the editors the article was taken down because too many white students were quoted which the student newspaper deemed harmful to the community, Apology from the editors [archived] (emphasis added):
On Feb. 17, 2022, The Miscellany News released an article titled “Jeh Charles Johnson withdraws as 2022 commencement speaker” on both its website and the fourth print issue of its 157th volume. This article intended to report on student feelings about Johnson’s nomination and subsequent withdrawal. Since then, the online version of the article has been pulled from The Miscellany News website—a decision made by the Executive Board in concert with the News Editors. We would like to take this space to discuss the reasoning behind our decision and recognize the feelings of disappointment and hurt surrounding the article’s publication.
We would like to use this statement to both emphasize our values of diversity and inclusion, and delve deeply into our editorial process and the resulting article in question, especially since we understand that many people in the Vassar community are unaware of the article’s removal. We had originally planned to publish an article focused primarily on student responses to Johnson’s nomination, particularly the backlash that his selection received. However, on Feb. 14, the day we began editing and laying out our fourth issue, we received Johnson’s withdrawal statement from the College. In order to keep our reporting up to date, we drastically changed the article from focusing solely on student responses to the announcement of him as speaker into an article describing his withdrawal and the reaction from the student body. In this article, we attempted to include a variety of quotes from students describing why there was protest to the announcement of him as speaker in the first place, and the students’ reaction to his withdrawal.
In prioritizing urgency over thoroughness, we made misguided and insensitive oversights with whom we were representing in the article and failed to provide in-depth reporting of the issue at large. The majority of our quotations came from white students and therefore we reduced the positions of students of color to a singular, tokenized perspective. After this was brought to our attention, the paper decided to remove the article online in an attempt to prevent further harm among the communities we misrepresented.
However, misrepresentation is not the only issue in the article—to state so would be a grievous oversimplification. Our article exemplifies many of the institutional flaws and structural problems within our paper. Journalism, including college journalism, has historically been a white-centric, often elitist field, and The Miscellany News is not immune to the consequences of these structures. The publication of the article and its subsequent removal reminds us of the systemic issues our members are implicated in, as well as the privilege and lack of diversity that we have allowed to persist for generations across our boards. None of our explanations for the failures of an individual article can mitigate the problem of past coverage on issues related to people of color, nor address in full depth the issue of representation within our board.
This does not mean that change is improbable, but rather that consistent action must be taken in order to address the systemic problems within The Miscellany News. The changes we aim to make cannot immediately fix the issues that have dominated college journalism, but we will work to take both immediate and gradual steps. One of these steps includes our current process of making a review board that aims to examine quotes and sources to ensure both their veracity and the integrity of their representation within the article. The review board will be separate from the editorial board, and its members will view articles on a rotational basis.
Finally, we would like to acknowledge the delay in releasing this editorial; we wanted to address the issue with the diligence that it demands, rather than release a swift but reactionary apology that does not cover the gravity or complexity of the situation. As a college newspaper, we want to emphasize that though we are committed to covering news of the Vassar community and campus, our main priority will always be to report all student voices to the best of our ability. We encourage students, including The Miscellany News Editorial Board, to partake in the dialogue regarding the issues at hand, as well as any future articles, topics or disputes on campus. We continue to push towards our goal of providing all of the most important news on campus while uplifting a diverse array of voices.
The Miscellany News
Note, the editors do not say that anything was inaccurate or that the quotes were wrong. They don’t say that the white students quoted were not representative of the overall campus view. (The Vassar Class of 2025 is 67% white.) They don’t say what views non-whites expressed were not reflected in the article. They could have expanded the article if that were the case, or run an article giving the supposedly ignored students a chance to give their opinions. Instead they tried to expunge it from the internet, and then cited supposed inaccuracies being the reason for the takedown.
I knew at the time the explanation given did not make sense. And it didn’t. This had nothing to due with journalistic accuracy, it was pure woke performance art.
This may seem funny, another case of woke college students gone wild. But it’s serious. It reflects the war on truth taking place in progressive institutions. Rather than striving for accuracy, the goal is to “represent” the community along identity lines. They even are establishing a review board as identity enforcer.
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