Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A letter I sent to The New York Times a couple weeks ago in response to an article about disgraced public figures and their absorption into academia. I'm still annoyed about how they covered Occupy Oakland...
Dear Public Editor,
Interesting article on the trend to hire public figures who "flamed out," or however Ariel Kaminer put it. Since there were no comments, I wanted to respond in person:
The article seems to suggest that universities are the refuge of washed up sexual miscreants, and does a great job discussing what it's like for the school and teachers and the students who come into contact with these people. That said, many of these public figures were written about in this very newspaper, and you all did as much as anyone to ruin these people's reputations. Mr. Kaminer's article still makes them, and universities, look like fools.

Another way to put it might be that universities are willing to hire remarkable people with interesting experiences. It's a classic second chance, and an acceptance of other view points. Universities get much from them in the form of attention and celebrity status, and of course, money. I'm just saying that it's not surprising that The Times, who are just as guilty of following the heard mentality, reporting exactly what officials tell you, pick a bone with institutions that absorb people screwed over by reporters reporting on other people's reporting. As if sending a picture of your penis, or whatever, to a college girl is really that much worse than whatever we've done at some point in our lives.

While the university system is less than perfect, and headed towards changes, it's an example of a public institution that has fared reasonable well in the last twenty years....Unlike mainstream journalism, which, The Times included has, more or less, been co-opted by conglomerates of politically driven billionaires. If not directly than indirectly in the sense that its the big medias (CNN, Fox News, ABC, etc.) that drive the market for news, and how much attention you devote to each story.
In short, I'm saying you could have just as easily spun this as a good thing, rather than an implied bad thing. Or taken some responsibility for how they got there in the first place. Or better yet, provide critical analysis of things like the Moody's report on the economic state of higher education, rather than just telling us what Moody's says about it.

Maybe I'm just confused about what newspapers are supposed to do, and maybe it's in your every right to call it like you see it (or don't see it). But as a representative of academia, we do a lot of good work, and are a heck of a lot more careful than you guys about what we say and why. Who knows what the future of journalism is, but you all could stand to take some criticism yourself, beginning with owning up to how much influence you have in shaping public opinion, and how much that influence is squandered on politically driven slander.