What if Reason didn’t write the NYT coverage of Oberlin students?

 

1989 Michigan Daily poto by Robin Loznak.

Daily Beast columnist Robby Soave is also a staff editor at Reason, according to his Twitter profile. Here I’m comparing his column from Dec. 20, “Oberlin College Students: Cafeteria Food Is Racist,” with a Dec. 21 news article in the New York Times, written by Katie Rogers, “Oberlin Students Take Culture War to the Dining Hall.”

Soave’s opening:

University dining halls aren’t exactly famous for serving gourmet dishes, but Oberlin students say their meals aren’t merely bad—they are racially inauthentic, and thus, a form of microaggression.

Rogers’s opening:

Some students at Oberlin College are taking their demands for diversity and racial inclusion to the dining hall, asking for more traditional meals and criticizing what they consider poor efforts at multicultural cooking.

First, the facts from Soave, in order:

  • Oberlin student with Japanese name, quoted in Oberlin Review, complained the sushi was inauthentic.
  • Oberlin student with Vietnamese name, also quoted in OR, complained that banh mi sandwich was inauthentic.
  • Oberlin tuition is $50,000
  • Fredrik de Boer snarky tweet about General Tso chicken not being authentic in the first place.
  • Black students (according to document linked, “obtained by Legal Insurrection,” a right-wing activist site) are demanding “safe space” for Black students.
  • Black students also demand Black psychologists and non-Western healers at the counseling center.
  • Black students also demand pay for organizing time. Offending community members “banished” (Soave’s word), and four buildings renamed.

Here are the facts from Rogers’s story, also in order:

  • Black student union “earlier this month” protested lack of response to an earlier petition for more traditional food, “including more fried chicken,” as reported by Oberlin Review.
  • List of complaints from the other OR story, including banh mi, sushi, and General Tso chicken. Same quote from Japanese-name student, attributed to OR.
  • Quoted statement from Oberlin dining services director.
  • Fredrik Boer tweet.
  • Response from dining services conglomerate.
  • Black student demands (same link to right-wing source): “segregated safe spaces” (Rogers’ paraphrasing of Soave’s critique), plus demand for increase in Black student enrollment.

Rogers added the next day’s worth of news to the story. So that’s the news. But the whole existence of the story is based on the Soave piece. The Vietnamese student complaint is from a story dated Nov. 6; the Black student dining hall protest was reported Dec. 12. As for the mysteriously-linked Black student demands, they were posted a week earlier by Legal Insurrection, who admit they don’t know who wrote them or who they represent, and their source for the document is anonymous. Nice reporting, NYT.

Look

People have been telling student activists to get off their lawns since they invented lawns. The criticism just varies between national-security-threat tear-gas them off the lawn and liberal disdain kids-these-days get off my lawn, depending on the context and climate. The difference is whether they spank (gas, arrest, surveil) or merely mock them for abusing their privileges when they should  be thanking their betters. Neither Soave nor Rogers nor any of the many who shared and copied the story cared to get the actual story from the actual actors involved. This is not required (by editors or readers) when all you’re doing is reinforcing the already-known sorry.

You wouldn’t know from the Soave/Rogers story that the Black student demands also include benefits for part-time dining hall workers, as well as better pay and benefits.

Of course, if the students are concerned about racism they could spend their energies instead just protesting the giant national racist movement that is leading one of our two political parties, and therefore presumably simply be ignored by the NY Times. But the transition from annoying spoiled brats to national security threat is surprisingly easy to make — when the story is owned by the national news media. Rogers could have written her story about the students’ explicit anti-imperialist rhetoric and tied it to the San Bernardino “self-radicalizing” story instead. The stretch wouldn’t have been much further.

When I complained that the Times was highlighting the fried chicken demand instead of the labor demand, Judith Shulevitz tweeted, “They kinda set themselves up for that one. Gotta pick your battles.”

But it’s not that simple.

DEPLORABLE PLAGIARISM CHARGE UPDATE

When I first saw this story I immediately linked it to the Daily Beast story, which I had been arguing about the previous day. When I saw how similar they were, I tweeted this:

I said it would be plagiarism in a class paper, because the main idea and most of the facts came from someone who was not acknowledged for that contribution. I honestly don’t know what constitutes plagiarism in journalism, but in my line of work such writing is unacceptable. In response, Patrick LaForge, who describes himself as senior editor of the NYTimes Express Team,* objected with three tweets (in reverse order):

laforge

My argument really is not about plagiarism, it’s about the news coverage – the story itself, the sources, and the writing. It is true that the NYTimes story did link to the Soave piece, but not in a way that gave any credit for all it contributed. I don’t see that as dispositive. Soave also tweeted that he “didn’t have a problem with the story,” which is nice. I guess he cares more about his influence whipping up the national hysteria about kids on the lawn than about getting individual credit for his work, which is admirable.**

* No disparagement intended by “describes himself”; I just couldn’t find this information on the NYTimes website.

** Of course, criticizing the NYTimes is all fun and games until you enrage an editor, and then it’s like, “Dude, I didn’t mean anything by it … you’re still gonna quote me, right? We’re good?”

5 Comments

Filed under In the news

5 responses to “What if Reason didn’t write the NYT coverage of Oberlin students?

  1. Chris W

    Whether students are protesting inauthentic food in the cafeteria, the lack of “safe spaces” on campus, or school-sponsored speakers with whom they disagree, these are the kinds of resistances we should expect in the neoliberal university, where schools are increasingly driven by market principles and not treated as public goods. In each instance, the students’ revolt invokes a consumerist logic, which goes hand in hand with neoliberalism, that seeks to tailor the college experience according to their student consumer needs. And now more student consumers are non-white, non-male, and non-straight. While they may be resisting institutional biases within the system, they are simultaneously reinforcing neoliberalism as a way of governing that system.

    Why did the president of Mizzou resign? Because football players in the profitable SEC refused to play. Neoliberalism solved the problem of racism on the Columbia campus in Missouri.

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  3. smrnda

    As with the comment above, I’ll agree that many of these protests (such as food at the cafeteria) should be expected, and also considered totally legitimate, given that schools have become increasingly consumerist. If you are paying serious $ to go to a school, and serious $ to live or eat at a dining hall, how is complaining about inauthentic sushi any different than complaining about inauthentic sushi at restaurant?

    With many of these cases, the only reason people seem to be clutching their pearls over what students are protesting is because of *which* students are protesting – if it’s minority students, then it’s (supposedly) political correctness gone wild. Though I wonder, what if it was ‘white male republican student complains that cafeteria has too many meat free options, not enough red meat?’ was a complaint? Would that student be accused of whining? I wonder how biases would play into coverage of such a complaint. In fact, I don’t wonder – the student would be a victim of eco hippies who have banished *real American food* from the cafeteria.

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  4. Kathleen Lowrey

    Thanks for this… it reminds me of something a colleague said about students who tell you “my other professors [ridiculously accommodating policy]”: if it sounds ludicrous, guess what, it probably is not quite true. This was in a discussion in which somebody was complaining about how the uni was going to hell in a handbasket bc other profs were failing to hold the line on minimum standards, they knew it because they’d heard it from students!

    Sounds like we should extend the same benefit of the doubt regarding stories about student protesters purportedly demanding implausible things.

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  5. Pingback: I don’t give activists unsolicited advice, except: don’t talk to the police | Family Inequality

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