A week ago, Deacon and the Trunk posted on the release of a report by Columbia University on its investigation of students' charges of anti-semitic conduct by several of the university's professors. The report mostly exonerated the professors, while, at the same time, recording behavior by them which was appalling. One of the points we noted was the craven behavior of the New York Times, which said that it agreed not to report the viewpoint of the complaining students in exchange for early access to Columbia's report. The Trunk wrote:
But what about the New York Times? Is it conceivable that the Times would enter into an agreement not to talk to the subjects of a report in exchange for being given access to the report a few hours before it is made available to the public? Is the Times to be muzzled at such a cheap price? Here is today's Times story by Karen Arneson on the Columbia report, with nary a comment from the students whose complaints triggered the investigation. The New York Sun has shamed the Times, whether or not the Times has any shame left to feel.
This morning, in an Editors' Note, the Times acknowledged that the Trunk was right:
A front-page article on Thursday described a report by a committee at Columbia University formed to investigate complaints that pro-Israel Jewish students were harassed by pro-Palestinian professors. The report found "no evidence of any statements made by the faculty that could reasonably be construed as anti-Semitic," but it did say that one professor "exceeded commonly accepted bounds" of behavior when he became angry at a student who he believed was defending Israel's conduct toward Palestinians.
The article did not disclose The Times's source for the document, but Columbia officials have since confirmed publicly that they provided it, a day before its formal release, on the condition that the writer not seek reaction from other interested parties.
Under The Times's policy on unidentified sources, writers are not permitted to forgo follow-up reporting in exchange for information. In this case, editors and the writer did not recall the policy and agreed to delay additional reporting until the document had become public. The Times insisted, however, on getting a response from the professor accused of unacceptable behavior, and Columbia agreed.
Last Wednesday night, after the article had been published on The Times's Web site, the reporter exchanged messages with one of the students who had lodged the original complaints. The student was expecting to read the report shortly. But because of the lateness of the hour, and concern about not having response from other interested parties, the reporter did not wait for a comment for later versions, including the printed one, after the student had read the report.
Without a response from the complainants, the article was incomplete; it should not have appeared in that form. The response was included in an article on Friday.
Without having the report before me, I'm not sure whether the professor who "exceeded commonly accepted bounds" was the one who attacked a Jewish student's appearance, or the one who ordered a pro-Israel student out of the classroom. In either case, I don't take much comfort from the explanation that he "became angry at a student who he believed was defending Israel's conduct toward Palestinians." Is this really what passes for academic discourse at Columbia? Who was it who wrote that American universities are "islands of repression in a sea of freedom"? The Trunk will remember.
UPDATE: It was Chester Finn who characterized the college campus as "an island of repression in a sea of freedom" in an important 1989 Commentary essay. Reader John Gavello notes that Finn may have borrowed the phrase from Abigail Thernstrom.
BIG TRUNK adds: Kudos to CampusJ for pursuing this issue: "NYT runs a correction for its deal with Columbia."