Columbia Manipulates the Press

April 6, 2005

For several days now, we’ve been hearing from multiple sources that the New York Times was given an “exclusive” on the Ad Hoc Grievance Committee report by Columbia University in exchange for an agreement from the Times that the newspaper not talk to the original complaining students. This report purports to clear the university of anti-Semitism charges at the same time that it provides no real basis for that exoneration (for more information, see my analysis). If the Times had talked to the complaining students before writing its story, the tone of that story (which trumpeted the “no evidence of anti-Semitism” finding) could have been quite different.

Today, the Times acknowledged its error:

The [original] article did not disclose The Times’s source for the document, but Columbia officials have since confirmed publicly that they provided it, a day before its formal release, on the condition that the writer not seek reaction from other interested parties.

Under The Times’s policy on unidentified sources, writers are not permitted to forgo follow-up reporting in exchange for information. In this case, editors and the writer did not recall the policy and agreed to delay additional reporting until the document had become public. The Times insisted, however, on getting a response from the professor accused of unacceptable behavior, and Columbia agreed.

Last Wednesday night, after the article had been published on The Times’s Web site, the reporter exchanged messages with one of the students who had lodged the original complaints. The student was expecting to read the report shortly. But because of the lateness of the hour, and concern about not having response from other interested parties, the reporter did not wait for a comment for later versions, including the printed one, after the student had read the report.

Without a response from the complainants, the article was incomplete; it should not have appeared in that form.

While the Times certainly behaved inappropriately, the real scandal is Columbia’s decision to “spin” this case in the world’s most powerful newspaper without giving the students any opportunity to respond. Such a decision decisively strips away any veneer of impartiality from the university and makes it clear that the university’s real interest is in making the allegations “go away,” not in discovering and addressing the truth.

Thanks to Power Line for the alert.

Schools:  Columbia University