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Crow on the menu at Johns Hopkins

To its credit, the Johns Hopkins News-Letter has published a series of letters taking the editors to task for (a) publishing Greg Sgammato’s cretinous article deploring the presence of fat girls at fraternity parties and (b) publishing an apology so cravenly self-regarding and equivocal as to be nearly as offensive as the original article.

To its further credit, the editors have since tucked in to a trencher of crow, publishing an actual apology:

In last week's edition of The News-Letter, we published two offensive and insensitive articles. We cannot undo the damage that these articles caused, nor can we excuse our decision to publish them. In light of these egregious errors, The News-Letter retracts the sex column entitled, "Banging under the influence: The ups and downs" and the opinion article entitled, "Local bison bear all at Phi Kappa Psi's annual Lingerave." Publishing these articles was wrong. On this occasion, we failed to meet the standards that our readership and community have come to expect of us. We would like to assure our readers that The News-Letter is currently undergoing an extensive internal review with the intention of identifying and rectifying weak areas of our editorial and production processes.

Without condition, The News-Letter issues its humblest apology.

One of the letters suggested that Mr. Sgammato should resign as a managing editor of the paper. A gentleman would have done so.

Mr. Sgammato’s name is still on the masthead.

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:17 PM | | Comments (12)
        

Comments

I disagree with the last point. The purpose of student newspapers is to allow budding journalists to make mistakes without ruining either their reputations or the reputations of actual news outlets they will be associated with later. The assumption should be that Mr. Sgammato has learned his lesson and should be allowed to carry on, a sadder but a wiser man.

John, you're right that the campus papers are supposed to be a great place to learn the hard lessons about your trade, but you don't hire someone who doesn't understand how to wash his own hands at the restaurant.

Some things you just have to learn before college, particularly common sense and decency.

@John Cowan: I disagree. In the first place, there's little evidence to suggest that Mr. Sgammato has learned anything or is wiser in any way. But more importantly, college is not a sandbox. It may not be the Real World, but we do not do young people a service by insulating them from the real-world consequences of their actions simply because those actions occur on a college campus. Mr. Sgammato has not embarassed his publication, and the least he can do is spare it further association with himself.

Excuse my typo; of course, I meant that Mr. Sgammato has embarrassed his publication, as well as himself.

It's a college newspaper.Get over it.

What I'm reading here is that the Alumni and their checkbooks have been embarrassed.

@Eve Actually, as a Hopkins alum, I'm more likely than ever right now to donate money to the school after this incident. Not because of the content of the article but because of how the administration has responded -- by not getting involved. After an incident involving a Halloween party a few years ago, the former president Dr. Brody instituted a "civility code" that essentially made clear that the University had no respect for free speech or expression. Until now, the new president, Mr. Daniels, had done nothing to repair the damage done by Brody, but by staying out of this debacle, the administration has seemingly made clear that they will respect the independence and rights of students, and of the the Newsletter. I disagree with the decision of the Newsletter of the print the article, but frankly, it was a (poor) editorial decision and I have significantly more respect for the University administration today than two weeks ago

@Tim Unfortunately the administration's refusal to get involved in hate speech is not viewed so fondly by a good deal of the student body and by a good deal of other alumni.

This whole thing was indicative of the overall misogynistic culture at Hopkins, and the administration's refusal to address it is an example of their failure to protect their students, not a victory for some abstract idea of free speech (which, by the way, does not cover hate speech).

Tim, your comments suggest a poor understanding of "free speech." Hopkins is not a public university, so it is not out of line for them to discipline students for publishing offensive articles in the school newspaper, especially one that carries the school's name and is school-funded (as is true for the News-Letter on both counts - it is partially funded by the school). The school has every right to keep hate speech out of their News-Letter, and frankly, a lot of women at Hopkins wish they were doing more, considering that letting Sgammato and Avitia get away with the articles they wrote for this issue encourages attitudes which are already doing harm to Hopkins women, in the form of the school's high rate of unreported rapes.

I am assuming you are talking about the Halloween incident where a group of students dressed as KKK members. As ACS said, that kind of hate speech is NOT usually constitutionally-protected, and particularly at a privately-funded institution of higher learning. JHU's ultimate responsibility to its students is to give them an education, not a forum to express every idea that pops into their heads. By allowing students to get away with these behaviors under the banner of "free speech" rights they don't have, they are wasting a valuable teachable moment.

It would be preferable if the editing staff themselves learned their lesson from this by ousting Sgammato and making sure everyone there gets a review of journalistic standards. From what I understand, they are implementing some sort of change to their editing policies. But if they aren't going to deliver the hard lessons, someone has to. I don't see what's so anti-democratic about suggesting the administration should step in, considering that it reflects badly on the school as a whole, not just the News-Letter, when this kind of tripe is published under the Hopkins name. Any read-through of the Jezebel articles about this shows there ARE people who will not be applying or donating to Hopkins this year due to this incident. That affects all Hopkins students, not just those stupid enough to give a pass on articles like these.

Note: I was also referencing Javier Avitia's "Banging Under the Influence: The Ups and Downs," another article which received a great deal of controversy because of how it appeared to be promoting date-rape.

I just wanted to note that I am making these comments as someone who very strongly believes in the First Amendment and has fought censorship. But I've also done my research on free speech laws, and it's simply ridiculous to say something published in a school-funded newsletter at a private school is deserving of the same constitutional protection as an article in the Baltimore Sun.

Numerous cases have affirmed that a private college student and a regular newspaper journalist have different free speech rights. And I can sort of see why - if the Sun were to publish something offensive, it would only reflect poorly on the Sun, so they should be the only ones allowed to move from there. When a school-sponsored newspaper publishes something offensive, though, it reflects on the whole school in some people's eyes. (Again, if you don't believe this to be the case, just a look at the comments threads in the relevant Jezebel articles is abundant proof to the contrary.) It's nice that you can separate the News-Letter from Johns Hopkins as a whole, but many others can't. Especially those female Hopkins students who know these attitudes to be a much bigger problem than just two articles.

Melissa Jane: Of course an assumption can be refuted by new facts. But forgiveness should be the assumption, because an environment in which all mistakes are punished by dismissal is one in which no risks are taken, ever.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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