Northwestern’s bungling student journalists were just copying the professionals

There’s a dopey old don’t-do-drugs commercial in which a father confronts his weed-smoking son, who exclaims: “I learned it from you, Dad!” That’s American journalism.

The children who run the student newspaper at Northwestern recently disgraced themselves by issuing a groveling apology for . . . covering the news, in this case protests against a campus visit by Jeff Sessions. And that was their offense: taking photos, conducting interviews — you know, journalism. Students who were photographed or contacted for interviews complained that they were “traumatized” by this.

“We contributed to the harm students experienced,” the Northwestern editors wrote, “and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made.” The main mistake they’ve made is mistaking themselves for journalists. These kids are an embarrassment, but the problem did not start with them.

In 2002, the Philadelphia Daily News ran a story about the large number of fugitives who were at the time wanted in Philadelphia on murder warrants. The newspaper illustrated the story by printing every mug shot of every fugitive then wanted on a murder charge. The overwhelming majority of those faces were brown, which provoked an outcry. Not because the paper got it wrong, but because it had got it right — communicating a set of facts that critics did not want to hear. To his eternal discredit, editor Zack Stalberg issued a groveling apology for . . . covering the news.

In 2018, the editor of The New York Review of Books was fired for — see if you can spot the pattern — covering the news. Ian Buruma published a piece in which a high-profile Canadian broadcaster who had been tried and cleared on sexual-assault charges noted that he had been tried and cleared on sexual-assault charges. For the crime of covering the news, the editor was chased out of his job as other journalists, including Slate’s Isaac Chotiner, cheered on the mob.

On and on it goes: NPR fired a movie critic, David Edelstein, for making a joke about an infamous movie scene (that butter in “Last Tango in Paris”). ESPN hired the controversial commentator Rush Limbaugh and then fired the controversial commentator for producing controversial commentary, i.e. that a black quarterback had been overestimated for reasons of racial politics.

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