Northwestern University’s Student Paper Ignores the First Amendment



Northwestern University may have one of the top rated journalism schools in the nation, but its student newspaper is getting extremely poor ratings after it issued an apology for its coverage of a recent speech by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In a Nov. 10 editorial, the paper claimed an article about students protesting Sessions’ speech had “contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night.”

What were the egregious mistakes made in the article about the protests? The first was that reporters posted photos of the protestors on Twitter. That’s it. The second was that the reporters used the campus directory to contact potential subjects for interviews regarding the organized and very public protest of Sessions Nov. 5 appearance. 

According to the apology, “some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive.” So, the photos were removed. They then claimed that while their “goal is to document history and spread information,” there is “nothing is more important than ensuring that our fellow students feel safe” and “are benefitting from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it.”

The apology characterized the use of the school directory as “an invasion of privacy,” and added that they had “spoken with those reporters” about how to approach subjects in the future.

There was no such concern about inflicting “harm” when an opinion piece was published in October which stated Sessions presence “threatens the identities of a significant portion of our student body” and that when referring to College Republicans inviting Sessions, said “it is difficult to disassociate conservative political thought from racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and general intolerance”

And when talking about basic standards of balance, the Daily also failed. The Northwestern College Republicans issued a statement following the Sessions event, but the “Daily Northwestern declined to publish this as a letter to the editor,” the group noted in a tweet.

Indicative of the proclivity on campus to stifle, rather than foster, debate was the response from the student government. With Sessions barely off campus, the Associated Student Government passed an “emergency resolution” calling on the school “to reconsider attendance policies for students who hold marginalized identities” and also “seeks to expand comprehensive counseling and the Center for Awareness, Response and Education,” according to an article in the Daily Northwestern.

The dramatics on the Midwestern campus might be laughable if it were an isolated incident, or if major news publications were not similarly unbalanced. But the reaction of the Daily Northwestern and the “harmed” protesters is in line with Harvard University’s newspaper apologizing for contacting representatives of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about anti-ICE protests.

Those gross overreactions to perceived slights are really not that surprising when supposedly objective news outlets, such as The Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press, and USA Today, banish the use of the term “illegal immigrant” in news articles. Sadly, public officials are attempting to legitimize such sophistry with actual legislative actions, including the New York City Council and members of Congress.

The attempts to muffle some voices in the debate over the direction of immigration policy will not get the Nation any closer toward a solution. In fact, it will more likely lead us further away from any agreement.

About Author

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Jennifer joined FAIR as Web Content Writer in 2017 and brings to the role extensive communications and media background. She began her career as a policy research analyst on multiple national and state political campaigns before entering journalism. In addition to spending over a decade writing for several broadcast and print news outlets, Jennifer directed communications strategy for a member of Congress and a military nonprofit.

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