Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Raoul Mowatt

Story stigmatized communities, lacked substantiation

First Published: The Stanford Daily, Volume 197, Issue 61, 21 May 1990.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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FOR THE FIRST TIME in weeks, I didn’t read The Daily Friday morning.

I just couldn’t – not after looking at the top-ranked stories about the alleged presence of a Marxist-Leninist group on campus, the League of Revolutionary Struggle. It wasn’t a deliberate boycott of The Daily; it was out of sheer amazement.

One story told of how a flier alleged that Gordon Chang, a professor who has been offered a position here, was part of this covert group; the other provided background on the group’s activities, according to an unspecified number of unnamed sources who claimed they had been recruited by the group.

More or less, the story on the flier itself seemed straightforward enough. The one glaring problem with it was an editorial decision. The story was about members of the Asian community being upset about the flier, and The Daily (I don’t want to say ’we’ when I refer to The Daily for the rest of this volume) printed the very same flier in the paper, doing a much more effective job of distributing it than its creator could ever hope to.

Primarily, I was concerned about the “sidebar” to the story – a sidebar that was longer than the story itself. Everything about it seemed tenuous and hazy, with unnamed sources attesting to the existence of a secretive group that controls? shapes? manipulates? campus politics.

It said that the members belonged to all the campus organizations of color, and that no one really knows how they work.

I have never before seen a story in The Daily without a single named source in it, and I hope to never again. I have no idea why no one would come forward with their identity. If students are afraid of torture/harassment at the hands of the League, then the story should have said so.

Those unnamed sources should also realize that they’re making life worse for themselves and others. Granted that the League exists and is based on intimidation, all League members would have to do is threaten all those who might have been “recruited” (to give one example of an inflammatory term in the story, reappearing with alarming frequency.)

My experience reading the articles was like the Brady Bunch episode where Bobby had that nightmare, remembering time and time again that “Mom always said not to play ball in the house.”

I couldn’t believe that what was happening in my hands was real. A joke perhaps? Was it an issue of The Stanford Review in disguise? They haven’t been publishing for a while now. No, my name was on the masthead, and Chang’s name was spelled correctly in the headline.

When it sunk in that it was actually Friday’s Daily, I started a whole questioning process.

As a member of the news department, I was shocked that the story was treated the way it was.

It certainly didn’t deserve top ranking; if someone had distributed a flier saying “Administrator X = Incompetent Bureaucrat,” we certainly wouldn’t have run that story off the front, let alone print an “extensively researched” story on how some say that there are a number of incompetent bureaucrats controlling Stanford’s administration (although I invite readers to test my theory out).

As a news editor of color, I felt betrayed that I had no prior knowledge of this investigation. This was the same paper that stands on its commitment to accurate and fair coverage of the various campus groups? This is the paper that I’ve blown off lectures and dropped classes for? This is the same paper that wouldn’t run a profile of a professor because it seemed “unbalanced” because she accused the University of being unsupportive of minority faculty without a University response? This is the same paper that a week ago denounced New York Newsday for its hesitant chastisement of one of its writers for sexist and racist slurs, and we printed this?

The story never says anything is actually wrong with the League, but it does a damn good job of stigmatizing just about everybody it mentions. It plays on a number of stereotypes: those subversive Commies, the inscrutable Asians, those power-hungry minorities.

I’d be tempted to call it a blatantly racist story, were it not for the fact that from what I know the reporter doesn’t think that way.

I’m sure he’s done a wonderful job researching the group and so forth, and has uncovered all these facts about it. But there are plenty of ways to color (sort of ironic usage, huh?) facts to change the end result.

As an example, I wrote the following snippet, which follows the basic format of the article on the League:

The editorial board of The Stanford Daily is a highly secretive organization constantly making decisions about what people on campus should think, do and act.

Daily doctrine states that Stanford is made up of various groups with influence, among which are administrators, students, and staff.

The organization has been active at Stanford for almost 80 years, perpetually recruiting students into its membership.

However, many students within The Daily have no knowledge of the secret agenda of the board. Even many of those within the board say that they have no knowledge of a secret agenda.

The recruitment of individuals for membership is highly secretive, at times to the point of students at Stanford not realizing how or why they were chosen, according to a number of students who say they were recruited by the board.

All of the above is basically true, but it all makes the board look much worse than it really is. This is how I imagine many within the communities of color feel. And on behalf of The Daily, I’d like to apologize to them. But I can’t. I can only speak for myself.

I’m sorry.

* * *

Raoul Mowatt is The Daily’s news features editor.