Monday, December 08, 2008

The Foghorn Editor Had Been Accused of Using 'No Comment' to Defame a Minority Group

I testified on behalf of 'no comment.'

It was all very impassioned. I think the Foghorn staff was ordered to undergo sensitivity training. Better than being sent to Devil's Island, I guess.


Okay, more explanation.

As I remember it, a campus group had used money supplied by student government to pay for (or help pay for) some bit of published info that suggested Columbus Day should not be a time of celebration, at least for Native Americans. A student senator -- who was, I believe, Italian-American -- objected to this use of funds, rising (I suppose) in defense of Columbus (who was a brute, you know, quite the bastard when it came to native peoples).

The Foghorn did a story on the controversy and, trying and failing to contact the president of the student organization that had published the original criticism of Columbus Day, reported that she had 'no comment.' (Or was it 'unavailable for comment'? I don't remember.)

The president said that characterization made her look bad and that she was not given a fair chance to comment, and the whole thing was a breach of journalism ethics. She filed a complaint with the Media Council, which hadn't had such a thrilling controversy in years.

There was a public hearing. I appeared to give some ethical perspective on the use of 'no comment' and in general to defend the article. (I think I had just been tenured, so when it comes to profiles in courage: no big whoop.)

I believe my insights were ignored.

The guy upstanding is Kent German, the Foghorn editor. He's at Cnet now, a card-carrying journalist.


James said...

Good memory! That was a wild episode in Foghorn history.

Inflamatory images, political posturing, conflicts of interest, human error -- we were all over that story.

Kent held up quite well. Little did his accusers know that they would be propelling him into the editor's chair.

I believe that the woman who brought the complaint against Kent and the paper, Mary Rose Fernandez, now works for USF. Perhaps we can send her this link for her comment.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

I'll admit I'd like to get her perspective. Foghorn editors over the years have had varying degrees of skill, varying degrees of backbone. You and Kent had both qualities.