Sensationalist Media Compromises Credibility for Click Bait

Editorial Board

In the past, the College has been a target for outside news sources that cherry-pick the Review’s pieces on topics ranging from the cultural appropriation of food in the dining halls to the contentious dismissal of former professor Joy Karega. Their goal is to malign the credibility of colleges like ours.

Last week, The Washington Times marked another chapter in the on- going manipulation of our reporting by twisting our story on Chair of the Board of Trustees Chris Canavan’s email revealing the deficit and consequent declaration of financial cuts (“Enrollment Drop Creates Financial Shortfall,” Sept. 8, 2017) to argue that the College’s underenrollment results from a reputation fostered by its students.

The piece relied mainly on a sensationalist soundbite courtesy of William A. Jacobson, clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School. He is quoted as saying that Oberlin’s drop in admissions is largely attributed to a phenomenon he calls “social justice warfare” — an evocative framing device, to be sure. Yet, to approach the climate of change sweeping campuses nationwide, words like “warfare” act only as agitative descriptors meant to fuel etic perceptions of student-initiated violence which simply does not exist.

If Oberlin students are engaging in “warfare,” then who are they fighting? Certainly not the proprietors of Gibson’s, whose premises were subject to a strong but completely peaceful series of protests. And neither are students waging war on the administration, whose refusal to respond to their demands was met with still more peaceful protests and — better yet — an effort to constructively work with administrators to resolve campus problems. Is it fair, therefore, to call diplomacy “warfare?”

Even at their most agitated, students resort to demonstration and discussion rather than aggression. Why, then, has the narrative of discourse on liberal arts campuses strayed so far from reality? Precisely because publications like The Washington Times have traded the truth for clicks.

The Washington Times’ rhetoric stems largely from recent right-wing condemnation of the rising, militant anti-fascist movement, known as “antifa,” and the consequent subjective conflation of antifa and liberal arts student activism. Conservative logic associates the two since there are overlaps in their social justice values. However, to suggest that the value of a liberal arts education itself should be pulled into question because students are employing their interdisciplinary education to speak out against the issues immediately impacting them is both inflammatory and harmful. By emboldening those who lampoon a multivariable education, The Washington Times reinforces and empowers that kind of thinking. That is the work of bias, a journalistic crime all-too-readily embraced for the sake of site traffic.

Unfortunately for The Washington Times, there will always be a publication with more integrity to take them to task. With the advent of social media creating an increasingly connected world, for every new subscriber they aggregate, many more flood to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. These publications accumulate a readership willing to subscribe and pay for journalistic content because they are reliable, analytical, and bring a multitude of voices into their reporting, unlike The Washington Times, which had the audacity to publish a piece sensationalizing Oberlin with a blatantly single-voiced attack on liberal communities to gain viewership.

Frankly, The Washington Times needs journalism like ours to survive; how can one twist stories if no one reports them in the first place? Such publications are parasitical, whiling away their fleeting lifetimes by leeching the reporting of better journalists in service of an agenda of agitation and bluster.

To remedy the reputation they attack, subjective journalists need to stop treating liberal arts students like violent, volatile reactionaries and recognize that the sensationalization of their actions does not expose the fragility of college campuses, but rather the fragility of the writer.