Posts Tagged ‘Badger Herald’

Herald accepts ad from holocaust denier

February 25, 2010

And Smathers explains it:

This newspaper has made a principle of accepting any individual or group advertisement submitted. The only cases in which we would reject an advertisement are if it exhibits threats toward any person or group or is of a libelous nature. This advertisement, while certainly fueled by veiled anti-Semitism, does not rise to the level of threats and therefore does not merit rejection.

The basis of these decisions does not rest on a desire to collect money for these advertisements, but on the editorial principle that no opinions or assertions can be so offensive that we cannot bring ourselves to hear them. If we run from manifestly vitriolic, destructive and false arguments when they present themselves, they will continue to roam and perhaps proliferate.

We attend a research university of nearly unparalleled intellectual might. As such, we have attracted the most intelligent minds of our country into one intellectual community dedicated to the perpetual search for the truth. This was our mission in 1894 when the UW System Board of Regents defended the “fearless sifting and winnowing” for truth, and it serves a guiding social principle for this campus to this day.

It is that mission that should guide us in this instance. It is patently obvious to the most rational individual that there is no truth to Bradley’s grand project. Any student of this university who views the page (or, perhaps even the link) would recognize his mission as a wholesale rejection of truth and, in turn, dismiss it.

Removing this advertisement would undercut and debase that belief in rational evaluation. The UW community has every ability to confront these lies and reject them on their face. To remove this advertisement would assume our community lacks the intellectual integrity to properly define this movement as an affront to objective truths. The absolute incompetence with which Smith defends his views can only be fully illuminated if this campus is faced to confront those views in their rawest form.

In many other western nations, holocaust denial is a crime. Here, saying “shit” on the radio is a crime. Both are unacceptable restrictions of individual liberty and I don’t believe that either does much to reduce the ugliness that its suppose to combat.

Here is a video of Noam Chomsky defending the right of French “historian” Robert Faurisson to deny the holocaust. The European press was incredulous, and quite a few American conservatives, including my former colleague Ryan Masse, saw it as evidence of anti-Semitism. That’s ludicrous. Even the crazy, deranged lunatics, from the KKK to the people who stand in front of Humanities and tell us we’re going to hell, have the right to free speech.

But that still doesn’t mean the paper had to accept the ad. To have refused it would not have been to abandon the principle of the right of free speech in society. No, the law shouldn’t outlaw hate speech, but the media is not obligated to publish it either. If the Herald is willing to reluctantly accept $75 for the ad maybe it should take the next step and court hate organizations for ads. Why not? It’s the principle right?

The hate speech laws in Europe are wrong. But some of the informal measures politicians and the media take to isolate the far right are worthy of consideration. When far right members of parliament get up to speak, all other members leave the chamber. Candidates refuse to debate with far right opponents. Quarantine.

Ouch –– Herald messes up on legal jargon

February 15, 2010

My favorite law blogger comments on this Herald headline: “Supreme Court Justice cleared to hear case; conflict of interest claim dismissed.”

Not true. The “claim” in this instance was presented in the form of a written motion requesting that one justice be disqualified from hearing the merits (the substance of the legal arguments) of a criminal appeal, State v. Allen, that the motion is related to.

Motions generally end up being either granted or denied. Here, the result was neither: by effect of the 3-3 split on the court, the motion was not granted, but nor was it denied. Because the motion was not granted, the judge at whom it was directed may presumably participate in deciding the merits of State v. Allen.

Otherwise Amelia Vorpahl’s report is accurate enough,* but the headline is brutal. She needs to file a motion against her editor.

Why the Herald should change its comment policy

February 10, 2010

I wouldn’t dare be the first to cast a stone at the Badger Herald. Luckily, Dean of Students Lauri Berquam’s letter to the editor today gave me a much-welcomed opportunity to pile on my former employer for allowing its comments section to be over-run by hate-mongers, buffoons and frat brothers.

The Herald has always prided itself as a promoter of free speech. At least partly because it started out as a neo-fascist conservative paper on a liberal campus, the Herald has an appreciation for all opinions, no matter how ridiculous or outside of the mainstream. At least that’s the narrative the current team likes to promote. Remember, the Herald, like the Cardinal, is a college paper and is therefore never run by the same people for more than a year or two. It’s very hard to maintain “traditions,” for more than a few years. But I digress.

When I was content editor of the editorial page we pretty much let anything fly. There may have been a few really nasty comments that I didn’t approve, but the general idea was that all comments had value, no matter how absurd or off-topic they were. That is currently the policy I have for this blog. I have never deleted a comment except in a couple rare instances in which people asked me to delete their own comments.

But I think the Herald should re-think its policy. Just as the paper shouldn’t accept bad writers, it shouldn’t accept bad commenters. Bad commenters actually prevent real dialogue. The comment section so frequently degenerates into personal attacks and nonsense that it makes writing a meaningful criticism of an article seem pathetically beside the point. The AEPi article comment section was not only full of absurd ad hominem attacks from both sides, it was flooded with comments from the same two or three IP addresses! This happens all the time on articles about a campus group –– group members manipulate the comment policy to make it appear as if they have boat-loads of support.

The opinion page and the comment section should be oriented towards people who are actually interested in reading the points the writers make and responding to them. Anonymous comments, just like anonymous sources, can be a great asset to newspapers. Our generation has recognized this and it will take a while for the mainstream media to catch up. However, this does not preclude editors from using common-sense discretion, just as they do with letters to the editor and other published work.

If I were in charge, I would put a couple comment czars in charge of moderating the comments. Maybe some copy editors or other people who have less of an interest in suppressing criticism of an article. The policy would be extremely liberal –– any comment that displays a sincere interest in communicating a relevant point would be approved. No worries about grammar, style etc. Commenters would be allowed to criticize writers and the paper, and they would be allowed to challenge the motives and intellectual honesty of the writer. But any far-fetched allegations would have to be verified.

There’s my two cents.

Pressure mounts against UW “closed meetings”

February 2, 2010

A recent article in the Badger Herald questioned the legality of a “closed” meeting of the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates Oversight Committee. Besides being a long-time champion of free speech and open government, the Herald had a specific dog in this fight –– it was a Herald reporter who was shown the door by university officials.

What’s next? Dare I say lawsuit?

A potential legal battle would concentrate on one point: Is the committee a governmental body? According to the university, it is not because it is “purely advisory.” However, according to the Attorney General’s office, governmental bodies are defined by how they are created, not what they do. And then there’s this:

Minutes from the May 7, 2008 Board of Regents meeting indicate the committee’s formation may have been formal, however. The minutes describe their approval of the tuition increase and then say a Madison Initiative Oversight Board will review the tuition differential annually.

In response to questions on the matter, UW spokesman John Lucas sent me the following:

In the spirit of transparency in which MIU was created, tomorrow’s meeting (9 a.m. in 260 Bascom) and all other meetings will be noticed and open.

There is some confusion that still exists about whether the Regents meeting minutes you mention references a separate committee that still needs to be formed in order to make an accountability report to the Regents.

But that point is really technical and moot– the MIU oversight committee will be considered to be a governmental body for the purposes of the open meetings law and open to all.

Does that mean UW admits fault? Or does it mean that it is simply doing students “a favor”?

Badger Herald gives up on diversity of topics

November 30, 2009

Apparently the Badger Herald will be dedicating the rest of the semester (practically) to confronting the question of “diversity.” The response in both campus papers to a couple of provocative columns has been so strong that Jason Smathers has decided to put everything else on the backburner. It sent the following email to a certain number of people (I have no idea how many) this morning:

Dear Jack Craver,

To stimulate conversation about race, ethnicity and minority issues on campus, The Badger Herald is asking members of the University of Wisconsin campus community to submit letters and guest columns attempting to answer the question, “What does ‘diversity’ at UW actually mean, and how should we address it?”

We encourage students from all walks of life to sound off on a range of issues relating to the racial and ethnic makeup of campus and what UW and its related bodies are doing to make this a more accepting, equitable and comfortable place for all students.

Jason Smathers loves this stuff. Gerald Cox knows what I’m talking about. Themes, special editions, boycotts. Gimmicks would be the less flattering term. They’re not all bad, and the thinking behind them are usually very idealistic, but the response is usually negative.

ASM and gay rights

September 23, 2009

The Badger Herald has a point. Maybe it would be more appropriate for ASM to stay out of national affairs. And if ASM were to fully fund the travel expenses for students to participate in every worthy cause in D.C. we’d probably have to start paying six figure tuition bills.

However, the Herald editorial was, in all frankness, disturbing. The ed board invoked a series of ideological arguments against ASM’s expression of support in favor of the gay rights march in Washington.

It is easy to forget, as students at the University of Wisconsin, that what seems politically black-and-white to student leaders has many shades of gray for the average student. And while our students and broader culture mull over an issue as agonizingly complex as same-sex marriage — an issue that immediately implicates religion, culture, moral conceptions and constitutional interpretation — the members of Student Council have an ethical responsibility to withhold public statement.

Agonizingly complex? How? The agony in the issue come from cultural reluctance to accept homosexuality, not from an extraordinarily difficult legal decision. The Herald seems to imply that gay marriage is inherently dubious constitutionally, as if a rational interpretation of the U.S. Constitution could somehow lead to the conclusion that gay marriage is unconstitutional. That is only the case in Wisconsin, which the march in Washington has nothing to do with.

It is bad enough that a conservative student could easily get the impression that our university administration has formally endorsed the full gamut of same-sex rights proposed by activists, and that they are expected to follow suit.

Is it? What’s worse is the impression some students may get that the largest paper on campus is passing judgement on civil rights issues based on the cultural and religious views of members of the editorial board. Nobody who believes in the secular tradition of American government would invoke “religion” in the discussion of a civil rights matter.

Herald priorities

September 22, 2009

The front page of the Daily Cardinal was superior to that of the Herald today.

The Cardinal ran a story on the Board of Estimate’s approval of important budget items. The budget is perhaps the most important issue that faces the city each year – like any government entity, the city’s agenda is most accurately reflected by what gets funded and what doesn’t.

The Herald’s top story was a UW alum – one of those hundreds of thousands of living people who graduated from UW – caught for soliciting sex from a minor. Because of it I’m sure the Herald would have run off the racks by noon if so many students weren’t staying home because of the rain. [Insert rant about declining standards in journalism.]

The prioritization of drama over important news is surprising, considering the Herald’s chief, Jason Smathers, is a bit of a political junkie. However, campus politics has always been his priority – as it should be. Hopefully city and state affairs don’t get pushed to the side in the hopes of attracting more readers with sensationalist stories that belong in the hands of Chris Hansen. The presence of this story in the paper is not necessarily wrong, but its placement is.

Keeping the Herald fair?

September 17, 2009

So the Herald got itself a public editor, otherwise known as an ombudsman. It’s Bassey Etim, who currently works at the New York Times and was the Herald’s managing editor way back when [a couple years ago]. I’m crossing my fingers that he didn’t read today’s opinion page, because from the responses I’m getting, there may be a significant portion of my readers who think my column was a little, ya know, stupid.

In his first article, Etim applauds the Herald for handling news of the recent UW suicide ethically and professionally, and warns its news staff to avoid relying too heavily on the words of Ken Harris, a former Herald editor and current head of ASM press relations, when covering campus government. The latter point is especially important, and in no way is Harris the only example of people in leadership positions who are good friends with Herald staff. Although I never dug the Campus Elite tournament at the Critical Badger, CB had a point when he talked about a tight-knit group of politically active people who scratch eachother’s backs.

Bassey may be right in asserting that Kevin Bargnes’ article about former College Republicans chair Sara Mikolajczak was somewhat unbecoming of  a managing editor, but it is less Bargnes’ fault than the Herald’s fault. The Herald has always required (or at least encouraged) its managing editors and editor in chiefs to write opinion pieces. If they are encouraged to express their opinions on political issues, should they really be expected to express those opinions…only to a certain extent? Are they expected to be moderate? Why? Should the Herald editorial board, which includes both editors, be expected to downplay its criticism of certain political orgs? The managing editor/EIC approve all the news and opinion articles. The only “wall” between editorial and news comes from the integrity of the staff. And that’s the way it has always been.

But go Bassey. This should make things interesting.

Cardinal babysits Republicans better than Herald

September 15, 2009

I missed out on some of the amusing commentary on the column printed in the Herald by the College Republicans two weeks ago. Luckily the Daily Cardinal, which printed an equally absurd piece by the Repubs on Friday, has given me another chance to comment on the story and still be somewhat topical.

Let’s start with the column from the Herald, written by College Republican leaders Crystal Lee and Stephen Duerst. The editors of the Herald clearly did not edit the article. Not that I necessarily blame them. There’s a fine line between polishing a piece and re-writing it. In my several years on campus, I’ve come to realize that any well-written, factually-sound article by the College Republicans is a clear misrepresentation of the organization.

But there is such a thing as journalistic integrity. I believed I was pursuing this ideal when I decided to bar columns written by the College Democrats and College Republicans last fall. It appears the orgs are back like the plague.

While Doyle engages in disagreements with members of his own party on the Congressional Finance Committee, a $6.6 billion budget deficit plagues Wisconsin.

A lot of commenters made fun of the reference to the “Congressional Finance Committee,” which of course does not exist – at least not in Wisconsin. Although I sincerely hope the two young Republicans can distinguish between state and federal government, I was more disturbed by the allegation that Wisconsin is plagued by a “$6.6 billion budget deficit.” Did Crystal and Stephen write this article three months ago, perhaps in over-anticipation of the school year? Are they aware that those Democrats on the “Joint Committee on Finance” balanced the budget? Not because they’re fiscal hawks, but because it’s required by state law. An allegation that even the balanced budget leaves Wisconsin with a structural deficit (much lower than $6 billion) would have been more reasonably aligned with the facts. But apparently the facts were not an issue for Crystal and Stephen or any of the several Herald editors who read the piece before it was printed.

The piece printed by the Cardinal (this time just Duerst) was less rife with factual inaccuracies, which is surprising because it Duerst recycled practically all of the same talking points, including facts about employment in Wisconsin, wages, General Motors, and higher taxes. It was practically a carbon copy. Ironically, however, there was an added emphasis on center-right. Duerst even claimed the CRs would move away from social issues, perhaps responding to Kevin Bargnes’ column: “Why Mikolajczak was bad for UW.”

Did Duerst do the fact-checking himself or were the Cardinal editors simply more vigilant?

Herald supports student ALRC member

September 9, 2009

The Badger Herald Editorial Board argued in favor of adding a student rep to the Alcohol License Review Committee. The most important aspect of the editorial.

Before Mr. Eagon’s proposal can be realized, however, there are several details that must be worked out. First, there was substantial debate regarding whether the representative had to be 21. As with any other city committee, any adult should be allowed to serve. Regardless of how much some may wish to pretend otherwise, most college-aged students are aware of and can offer meaningful input on alcohol issues, whether or not they are 21.

This is perhaps the only aspect of the editorial that took any guts to write. The rest was very intuitive for a student newspaper, although the Herald often fails to achieve even that in some instances (the drinking age, tuition). The point could have been supplemented with the logic used by Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, who argued that not only was an underage student possible, but he/she might be preferable considering the unacceptable lack of activities for underagers in the downtown area.

Also guys, if you insist on the courtesy titles, please, be consistent. You switch from Mr. Eagon to Ald. Eagon in one article. Tst, tst, tst.


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