The Gatekeepers Of Editorial Authority
A few years ago, my college’s newspape, the Columbia Spectator — to which I dedicated not-insignificant amounts of my time as an associate and deputy opinion editor — was forced to issue the following retraction:
CORRECTION:This submission misstates that one Dalai Lama admitted to having sex with hundreds of men and women while knowing that he had AIDS. Additionally, the submission misstates that many monks participated in the dismemberment of female bodies. In fact, there is no factual evidence to substantiate either of these claims. Spectator regrets the error.
I don’t think the Spec is going to issue a retraction-Hall-of-Fame-worthy statement like that in the course of damage-controlling this article, a piece so laden with slander and innuendo that Mondoweiss has already cross-posted it. After all, the allegation that the Dalai Lama spreads AIDS and mutilates women is more easily disproven than the hearsay in which this article traffics. After all, who’s to say that members of Columbia’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine weren’t approached by “Zionists” spouting support for ethnic cleansing or the Kach party?
Which is exactly the problem here. I know that the Spectator’s news division would never base an entire article on unrecorded second-hand statements that are by their very nature unfalsifiable. After all, falsifiablility marks the borderline between gossip and news. When the Spectator’s news section publishes a quote from a student accused of selling drugs out of a university-owned frat house, the reporter is accountable to editors who are in turn accountable both to their sources and to their readership. But when the Spec’s editorial page publishes quotes from unnamed “Zionists”—without so much as offering a date or time when those quotes were uttered, never mind reliable documentation that they were ever uttered in the first place—it behaves as if it is accountable to no one; sort of like Gawker, in a way.
I won’t speculate as to why the Spec’s editorial standards evaporate as soon as an SJP editorial appears in its inbox. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Spec’s editors are anti-Israel. But they apparently conceive of the editorial page as a sounding board for any and all communal grievances, regardless of how contrived, frivolous, or borderline anti-Semitic those grievances may be.
This practice has to stop. I’m willing to entertain the possibility that within an environment of hyperactive political correctness, the paper has more to lose from denying any group a spot on the editorial page than it does from extending its imprimatur to ethnically-motivated slander. But isn’t this a reality that would-be gatekeepers of editorial authority should be fighting, rather than mindlessly endorsing?
Armin Rosen is a Contributing Writer for The Propagandist