The Oct. 23 GW Hatchet editorial “Debate fizzle” (p.4) is an example of the harm journalists can do when they express opinions without getting all the facts.
The piece scolded the administration for being inconsiderate by scheduling the Commission on Presidential Debates Symposium during midterms, and implied that students did not show up because they were too busy studying. “Simply put,” the editorial stated, “the timing was bad for students.”
My question is: if The Hatchet sent two reporters and an assistant news editor to cover the event, and they ended up writing two news articles on the subject, why didn’t anyone ask about the debate scheduling before writing the editorial?
If The Hatchet staff had asked, they would have learned the dates were set months before, due to the sheer logistical difficulty of finding two days in the academic calendar when Commission co-chairmen Paul Kirk and Frank Farenkopf, commission board members and staff, President Trachtenberg, and the Marvin Center Theater were all available.
They would also have learned that after considering everyone’s time commitments, GW had three options: hold the symposium Oct. 20-21, hold it in August when even fewer students could attend, or hold it at another university. From an informed perspective it is easy to see why GW chose mid-October.
The problem is, nobody asked. The Hatchet commended the attempt to draw national political attention to GW but ultimately concluded that “a poorly timed event is not an accurate measure of student interest.”
What bothers me about this statement is it sounds like The Hatchet is trying to blame the GW administration for lack of a massive student turnout. Now there are many things at this school for which the administration can and should be held responsible; I cannot, however, believe that student political apathy is one of them.
I spent most of Monday and Tuesday working at the symposium. The students who attended asked intelligent, informed questions about presidential debate politics, especially at the session exploring low voter turnout amongst Generation Xers. These students were just as busy as everyone else, yet they clearly felt the symposium was important. Why didn’t more students feel this way?
This is an interesting question given GW students traditional involvement with all things political, and one which The Hatchet does pose in the editorial. However, instead of exploring this issue in a substantive fashion, the editors chose to take the easy way out and blame someone else for the problem. How very Generation X.
A newspaper has an important responsibility to provide perspectives on an issue for members of its community who can’t attend a particular event. According to The Hatchet, the symposium was a “fizzle.” This is an extremely misleading conclusion. At a working lunch on Tuesday, the Commission’s executive director Janet Brown thanked Mike Freedman and other members of the GW community for their hard work in making the event a success. She noted that the level of detail involved in planning the symposium was comparable to planning the real thing.
GW took a major step toward proving that we have what it takes to host a presidential debate in the year 2000; the headline of the editorial does not reflect that success. If The Hatchet is going to take a negative view of a particular situation, it would help if they got all the facts first.
-The writer is a senior majoring in journalism.