I’ve always been a loyal reader and admirer of the FoHo. This week, that changed. For once, I have a personal stake: I know Professor John Donohue well. I’ve counted Aidan Donohue, ’19, son of the accused, among my closest friends ever since we took high school physics. So it’s difficult for me to take an objective look at the facts of the “incident” as reported by the FoHo.
I should also acknowledge that I wasn’t present. For those of you who don’t read the FoHo, it recently published the claim that Professor Donohue had used a racial slur in an “altercation” during a pickup basketball game. I’ll never be able to go back to that day and see what actually happened — that being said, I don’t think anyone who knows Professor Donohue could picture him using a racial slur. My grievance here, though, has nothing to do with the incident in question. It has everything to do with journalistic ethics.
Because of this: While I can’t go back to that game and see what was said, what was done, I can see how the FoHo treated this story. First, the only three witnesses identified in the special report were Professor Donohue and his two sons. Before the story went out, Aidan Donohue wasn’t contacted. Patrick Donohue ’22 wasn’t contacted. Professor Donohue himself was only contacted the day the piece was to be published, and an anonymous FoHo reporter didn’t even give him until the end of his workday to come up with a response.
Which, taken together, makes it appear that the unnamed editor of the FoHo was more interested in telling a good story than in telling the truth. A few other facts that the FoHo neglected to report: The man who leveled the accusation against Donohue allegedly assaulted him — Aidan Donohue claims that he “sucker-punched” his father, a man in his mid-sixties, while he and another player were tied up in a jump ball — before the conversation in question took place. You should also know that Professor Donohue has only a limited recollection of what happened because — another fact — he was concussed. And it was Professor Donohue, not the other man involved in the “altercation,” who insisted on calling the police.
As someone who wasn’t there, I’m happy to admit that it comes down to one man’s word against another’s. I’ll also admit that I’m obviously inclined to believe a person I’ve known for years over one who’s remained anonymous. But what students believe should be up to them, not the FoHo. When a reputation (no small thing) hangs in the balance, a fair presentation of the facts means giving all known parties a chance to respond. The FoHo claims to print the news — unlike a column on the Op-Eds page, news can’t privilege one credible account over another. But in this case, reporters apparently just didn’t care enough to try to get the other side of the story. The side they had was too good not to print alone.
The question of the FoHo’s journalistic ethics is important because its reporters do some of the best investigative work on campus. They often (and entertainingly!) do us all a valuable service, and the trust they’ve earned may give them more power than any other paper on campus. That power means that they should be held to a high ethical standard, and this week — no matter what actually happened — they fell short. To the anonymous editor-in-chief: There’s a difference between news and entertainment.
Contact Chapman Caddell at jcaddell ‘at’ stanford.edu.