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April 08, 1983 - Image 4

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1983-04-08

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01

OPINION

Page 4

Friday, April 8, 1983

The Michigan Daily

Petitioning the

other side of

the story

By David Spak
One has to be living in a vacuum on this cam-
pus to be unaware of the petition drive aimed
at the Daily entitled "A call for responsible
journalism." The petition accuses the Daily of
sensationalism; increasing religious, racial,
and gender tension on campus; misquoting
sources and misrepresenting the news; and
withholding information which could have
eased some of that tension. It goes on to
demand that the Daily admit to its irrespon-
sibility and make assurances that efforts will
be made "to decrease the irresponsible jour-
nalism in the future."
Sounds serious to me. So while those who are
trying to persuade you to sign the petition give
you their side of the story at CRISP or in the
Fishbowl, let me do what a responsible jour-
nalist would do-give the other side a chance to
respond.
I REALIZE that my arguments will not ap-
pease many of those most upset with the Daily.
But then again, those most upset with the Daily
probably have not thought rationally about the
arguments in favor of the Daily.
The petition states that "since the present
editorial board of the Michigan Daily has taken
over there has been a consistent pattern of
irresponsible journalism." Among others, the
petition cites articles we've published on a

bulimiac expelled from her sorority; the
Jewish American Princess stereotype; an
Israeli scholar who spoke on campus; and,
most recently, a fraternity party that had
racist implications.
In my mind, the most serious of the
"charges" the petition brings are that we have
misquoted sources and misrepresented the
news. These are of most concern to me because
they involve 'the way we report a story and
these are charges those outside of journalism
are least qualified to make.
The petition says we misquoted the Israeli
scholar and misrepresented his positions. We
did. We also admitted to our mistake in a
correction the next day. But those backing the
petition are not satisfied. The damage is done,
they say. Again, they are correct.
REPORTERS make mistakes, editors make
mistakes. We're human. Even people at The
Wall Street Journal and The New York Times
are human.
So what do we do when me make a mistake?
We admit it. On April 6 The Wall Street Journal
admitted to five mistakes. When The New York
Times runs a correction it appears in a small
corner on the second page. These corrections
actually take up less space than the corrections
that appear in the Daily.
We only do what the experts in our field do
when a mistake is made.
What about other "misquotations"? The

petition claims we misquoted a counselor in the
story on the bulimiac. In actuality, our reporter
tried unsuccessfully to contact the counselor
for comment. We correctly quoted a member of
the sorority who misquoted the counselor.
In other cases where we indeed misquote a
source, we admit our mistake and run a correc-
tion. It is part of our responsibility to our
readers and to ourselves. Certainly, a reader or
a source can and should make us aware of our
mistakes.
MORE importantly, this "charge" implicitly
questions the way we report a story. This
brings into play the other accusations (sen-
sationalism, creating increased racial ten-
sions, creating an issue, etc.) the petition
raises.
As a test case, I use the Sigma Alpha Mu
"jungle party" story. The petition claims we
created the issue because only three of the 150
partygoers painted their bodies black and
because we contacted black leaders on campus
to get their reaction to the party.
We did not paint the three partygoers black,
nor did we put blackface and rabbit, ears
(representing the stereotype "jungle bunny")
on at least one other partygoer - a fact we did
not know about at the time we ran the original
story. Yes, we did report that three people at
the party were painted black, but I fail to see
how we created an issue by reporting that fact.
DID WE do anything wrong by contacting

black leaders on campus for reaction? Did we
create an issue by doing that? If we did, then
reporters are guilty of doing that in every story
newspapers print.
It is a reporter's job to contact people to get
comment- to get the story - because 99.9 per-
cent of the time the comment will not come to
the reporter.
Every reporter who is doing the job properly
almost always is trying to contact a source. If a
reporter is doing a story on the proposed art
school budget cut, he doesn't wait for the
school's dean to contact him, he contacts the
dean.
Naturally, we reporters are not always suc-
cessful, as in trying to contact the counselor for
the bulimia story. But we are guilty of only
doing our jobs by trying to get the story.
DID ANY of these stories increase tension on
campus? This tension, especially racial ten-
sion, has been at an extremely high level for
a long time. All year it has been at its highest
level since I've been here (I'm a junior), and
I'd venture a guess to say things haven't been
this bad since the Black Action Movement
strike 13 years ago.
These tensions have been boiling under the
surface. What the jungle party article did was
bring those tensions to the surface. It exposes
the racial tensions that exist at the University-
with the hope of easing those tensions by in-
forming people about them. If people are more

aware that these problems exist, the problems
are necessarily easier to solve. Ignorance can
no longer be used as an excuse for not solving
the problems.
That, in large part, is the fundamental pur-
pose of a newspaper.
There are a few more things I should say to
place my comments in better context. Contrary
to a popular perception, the Daily is not
monolithic. We have policy debates which are
often heated. But these internal considerations
remain internal.
When we need to comment on some issue in a
manner other than an editorial, we have so far
relied solely on our editor-in-chief as our
spokesperson. Consequently, people may
misinterpret the editor-in-chief's influence. In
such situations, the editor-in-chief's voice is the
voice of the majority of the editors.
Lastly, these arguments are the product of a
thought process I've been going through since
long before the current set of editors was elec-
ted.
It is a process that is part of my job as a
reporter. It is a process that is part of my job
as an editor. It is a process that is part of my
job as a responsible journalist.
Spak is the Daily's co-Opinion Page editor.

Edited and managed by students at The University of Michigan

Wasserman

Vol. XCIII, No. 149

420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Editorials represent a majority opinion of the Daily's Editorial Board

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W HEN PRESIDENT Reagan
began his systematic gutting of
the nations social service programs, he
vowed he would not cut through the
vital "safety net" supposed to provide
of the poor and elderly. Though the
assertion rang hollow at the time, now
there is increasing evidence the
president cut not welfare cheats but
millions of needy people from the
government aid programs.
A survey by a Boston hospital found
a surprisingly large number of
children with stunted growth. A Har-
vard health specialist told a Senate'
subcommittee, that the figures may be
a sign of "silent undernutrition"
among the nation's poor. The study
concluded that the children five years
of age and younger were susceptible to
permanent brain damage from poor
nutrition.
In addition, Sen. John Danforth, a
member of the president's own party,.
reported that a recent trip to his home
state of Missouri also revealed major
nutrition problems there as well. Small
surveys showed malnutrition both
among inner city children in St. Louis
and elderly poor in Kansas City.
The implications of such findings are

ominous, but unfortunately not sur-
prising. The president has cut millions
of dollars from the federal school lunch
program and other nutritional sup-
plement plans. In addition, he has cut
billions from the food stamp program,
denying thousands of needed assistan-
ce. He wants to cut an additional billion
dollars from next year's food stamp
budget.
The zeal with which the ad-
ministration has stripped social
programs of funds has even his
Republican colleagues in the Senate
deserting him. Both Danforth and Sen.
Bob Dole (R-Kan.) are trying to amass
evidence that such cuts are hurting the
very people the Reagan ad-
ministration's safety net was supposed
to help.
Although no national study has been
undertaken, the signs are clear that
millions of Americans are underfed
and receiving little or no government
help. The Census Bureau announ-
cement that the number of Americans
living in poverty in 1981 (31.8 million)
was the highest in more than 15 years,
make increased funding for food-
related programs the necessary
replacement for further welfare cuts.

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LETTERS TO THE DAILY:

UAC did not endorse petition

. . .

i

To the Daily:
Presently, there is a petition
circulating on campus which
protests The Michigan Daily's
"consistent pattern of irrespon-
sible journalism." The bottom of
this petition states that it and the
purposes behind it are endorsed

by UAC, the University Activities
Center. The UAC Executive
Board has not endorsed this
petition.
UAC does support the ideal of
responsible journalism in all
media which exist to inform the
public; this includes The

Michigan Daily. In regard to the
above-mentioned petition,
however, UAC neither endorses
nor opposes it. Individual UAC
members may support "a call for
responsible journalism" from
The Michigan Daily but these are
personal views and do not reflect
the organization's position. To
those who might accuse UAC of
trying to avoid the issue let us
state that we have not been sup-
plied with sufficient informaion

nor given adequate time to mak*
a responsible decision concerning
the petition.
We hope that the University
Activities Center's involvement
in this matter stands corrected.
-Lori Smith
Rob Markus
Leigh Sweda
Michael Jarema
UAC Executive Boardmember*
April l

... petition ridiculous

. . .

To the Daily:
In regards to your articles
("Fraternity votes not to 'black
up'," Daily, April 6, and "MSA
calls Daily irresponsible," Mar-
ch 30) this petition for a better
Daily is totally ridiculous.
The Michigan Daily, like all
other student newspapers-and
student organizations-has its
flaws. For sure MSA and Sigma
Alpha Mu Fraternity cannot say
they are flawless. It's interesting
that all the major organizations
backing this petition drive have
at one or more times got bad
print in the Daily.
For example, a white frater-
nity-Sigma Alpha Mu-has a
"blacked up" jungle party, which
is a good reason for having a
resolution drawn un for irresnon-

endorsing it-along with LSA
Student Government, the College
Republicans, the Intra Frater-
nity Council, and the Pan
Hellenic Council.
A call to investigate the Daily
by hiring an ombudsman would
probably not benefit the majority
of the student body, add more
costs to the students through fees,
and be useless.
Overall, this drive is taking up
a lot of energy that could be used
to further student unity-as well
as better communication with the
Daily. Many students consisten-
tly attack the Daily for doing it's
job-covering university events,
etc.
I think until students such as
Brian Sher and the organizations

... Daily should be praised

To the Daily:
What is amusing about the
recent barrage of criticisms
against the Daily-irresponsible
journalism, the fostering of
racism, etc.-is that they're prin-
ted in the Daily_ itself. It's proof
that the Daily permits different,
dissenting views.
All views? Well, not quite all.
If, for example-a la George
Minde's article on
Nicaragua-I'd counter it by
saying that, far from his notion of
the Sandinistas as too far left,
they haven't goneleft enough and
what they need over there is a

fair enough, to print no-small-
amount of views not its own.It
deserves a pat on the back rather
than the scathing invectives I've
recently been reading, like
against a perfectly unbiased &
scholarly article on "Japs," or
against a photo what appeared
scantily-dressed black Africans
living in the jungle. Or should I,
tsk-tsk, have said "rain forest."
What's so horrendous about this
close-living to nature any an-
thropologist or ecologist would
ask. Maybe it's one-up on our
frenzied technologized super-
urbanized way of life. Those who

/IIIJ //It F7I

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