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Becky and Toby flood the zone
Posted by on Saturday, July 12, 2003 at 1:56 pm

There has been a notable increase in blogging by Becky and Toby over the last few days. Hooray!

Becky is, first and foremost, psyched about last night’s Great Big Sea concert. I certainly can’t blame her — Great Big Sea rocks! I’m so jealous, I wish I could have been there. (I’m heading up to Buffalo on Wednesday. It’s not fair — Becky and her friends always do all sorts of fun things right before I come visit!)

And the fun goes on: she’s going to a big old SHA-girl party tonight (”SHA girls” being alumni of Sacred Heart Academy — in other words, former Catholic schoolgirls), so perhaps we’ll eventually hear about that on her blog, too.

Anyway, Becky also blogged yesterday about something less pleasant: an odd confrontation she’s been having with someone regarding an earlier (now somewhat edited) blog post.

Becky used these recent events as a jumping-off point to recall old memories of an incident in which she was censured for a Daily Trojan column criticizing USC’s Thematic Option program. On her blog, Becky didn’t go into detail about precisely what it was that she got in trouble for, because the details weren’t relevant to her particular point. I, however, can’t resist. Three years later, the details still make my blood boil.

Becky’s column criticized Thematic Option, USC’s honors program, on a range of issues. The controversy, however, focused on this statement:

[The] program’s supervisors are refusing to release their course evaluations for last semester, presumably because one science CORE had a very negative reaction from the students.

Now, this sentence definitely was not as well-researched as it should have been — Becky “presumed” a reason for T.O.’s actions rather than asking someone — and it’s possible that the word “refusing” was therefore incorrect. But the basic underlying fact on which her statement was based, that T.O. evaluations were not online when virtually all other course evaluations were, was true at the time of publication.

Unfortunately for Becky, at some point between the time when the newspaper went to press and the time when it appeared on campus the next morning, the T.O. course evaluations magically appeared online. Whether this was coincidence or conspiracy (the DT is put online hours before it’s printed, so anything is possible), we’ll never know, but that’s what happened.

As Becky wrote in her post, the T.O. director, Robin Romans, promptly stormed down to the DT office to complain about the article. Naturally, what he was really upset about was the whole content of the article — how dare the DT criticize his department so harshly? — but he focused on the evaluation issue in particular, because he thought he “had” Becky there. She had written something that was apparently untrue. (Nevermind that it was true at the time of publication; it was untrue by the time the article appeared.)

The editor-in-chief, in keeping with a long tradition of Daily Trojan spinelessness, caved in to Romans’s demands. She reprimanded Becky, suspended her from her column for a week, told her to apologize to Romans personally, and issued an “editor’s note” that amounted to a retraction of Becky’s statement about the evaluations.

That last part is what really gets me. Whereas Becky’s point about the evaluations was arguably misleading and poorly researched — and therefore you could make a case for the reprimand and the suspension (though not, I think, the apology, since her error was not daring to criticize T.O. but rather doing so sloppily) — it was still based on a fundamentally true fact that should not have been retracted. But the editor’s note — which, unlike one columnist’s opinion, is the official position of the newspaper — stated flatly that the evaluations had never been missing at all, which was factually false. And the editor-in-chief knew it (or else she blindly took Romans’s word at face value*, all evidence to the contrary).

The editor’s note stated:

An opinion column in the Monday, Nov. 13 Daily Trojan incorrectly stated that Thematic Option administrators did not release course evaluations for the program. In fact, the evaluations have been available since the Student Senate’s Course Guide went online Oct. 27. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.

As I said, the fact of the matter is that the course evaluations were not online until sometime on the late evening of Nov. 12 or early morning of Nov. 13. I know this for a fact, because I personally checked. Several other people also knew this, because they’d checked too, and they told the editor-in-chief this. Some of these people weren’t even newspaper staffers, just concerned parties — T.O. students — who heard about the controversy and e-mailed the editor-in-chief to tell her that Becky’s statement about the evaluations had been correct.

I was the DT City (news) section’s Assignment Editor at the time — and because there was no City Editor that semester, I basically shared City Editor duties with the editor-in-chief — and I objected vociferously and repeatedly to the publication of this false editor’s note. I even presented the editor-in-chief with electronic documentary evidence that her retraction was false — I showed her a copy of a PDF file of the evaluations, e-mailed to me by a friend, that contained all the evaluations except T.O.’s. Although this didn’t prove anything about exact timing, it certainly proved (unless my friend was going to the trouble of editing PDF files) that the T.O. evaluations had not been online “since the Student Senate’s Course Guide went online Oct. 27.” The PDF file clearly showed that there had been some time period when the Senate Course Guide was online without the T.O. evaluations.

Unfortunately, my objections were basically ignored because Becky was my girlfriend (a rather insulting presumption that I have no integrity, I thought at the time), and everybody else who bothered to object was also ignored because the editor-in-chief was too concerned with making nice to the T.O. director to listen. So, the Daily Trojan, a student-run newspaper that is not supposed to be beholden to the administration in any way, knowingly published a factually false editor’s note in order to make nice to a USC administrator.

It’s been almost three years, and I’ve graduated from USC, but this still makes me angry, to this day. More angry, in fact, than any of the other DT controversies I’ve lived through, including the ones that affected me more personally. It was not a judgment call; it was an outright lie, published as the official position of the paper. I wish I had resigned in protest; I clearly should have. I hope that, if something similar happens at some other place I’m working in the future, I’ll have the fortitude to resign in protest.

(By the way, in case you’re wondering, I’m not naming the editor-in-chief here because I’d rather not have people, including her prospective employers, stumble upon this post using a Google search for her name. She made a mistake — no doubt about that — but she was only a college student, after all, and college is the time when you’re supposed to make mistakes and learn from them, right? Hopefully she has learned, and wouldn’t make such a decision again in the future. Overall, she is a good journalist, and I have no desire to harm her reputation by rehashing three-year-old events.)

(*While we’re on the topic of upholding people’s reputations, I should point out that I have no direct knowledge that Robin Romans himself lied to anyone about anything. The only statement that I know to be a falsehood is the “editor’s note” published by the DT after Romans spoke to the editor-in-chief. But I do not know whether Romans specifically requested that the editor’s note contain the precise language that it did. Romans’s own letter to the editor, published simultaneously with the editor’s note, did not specifically make the same false claim that the editor’s note did: namely, that the course evaluations had been online since Oct. 27. Romans said only, “our course evaluations…are already public. All T.O. course evaluations for last spring are included in the Student Senate Course Guide (available online).” That was true at the time it was published. So Romans did not lie in print. Whether he lied verbally to the editor-in-chief, I have no idea. For all I know, he might have told her that the course evaluations had been online all along because he honestly believed that they were, thanks to a technical screw-up in his department or something. Or he might have said nothing of the sort, and the editor-in-chief might have simply printed an even more thorough retraction than Romans asked for, in an attempt to please him. I just don’t know. All I know for sure is, the editor-in-chief had, and ignored, clear evidence that her editor’s note was false on its face. I cast no aspersions whatsoever upon anyone else’s character or honesty.)

Anyway, Becky’s musings really have nothing to do with all that, but I couldn’t resist a bit of reminiscing.

Toby has been blogging, too, as I mentioned. On Tuesday, she commented on invasions of “her” garage by assorted bric-a-brac, which was brought in by Dr. Zak for the purpose of being carried away by “a veternarian called AMVET” the next day. Heh.

And then today, our favorite Psychokitty complained about being imprisoned in the garage by a group of nasty humans (potential buyers touring the Zaks’ for-sale house, I presume). Poor Toby!




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