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When journalism falls short

A recent Daily article by Claire Wang describes (in lengthy and sometimes graphic detail) a situation of alleged emotional abuse, not covered by Title IX, and asks the question “What happens when student organizations are left to manage [cases like this] alone?” The focus of the article, however, seems to be less how the student group in question handled the situation and more the personal details, beginning in 2016, of the relationship within which the alleged misconduct occurred.

This is not the only way in which Wang’s title misleads. According to the article’s timeline, Common Origins leadership was never asked to step in until many months after the allegedly abusive relationship ended. In other words, the group was never asked to manage a situation of alleged abuse, but only the aftermath of one.

Wang’s piece is lengthy, but all details about the relationship itself seem to come only from the accuser, “Matthew.” The story reads as extremely one-sided, inviting judgment from the reader into the character of “James,” the accused. After publication, the article was updated and corrected several times – a clear indication that the Daily allowed this piece to be published with severely lacking and in some cases inaccurate information. Wang seems to have fallen prey to anchoring bias, in which a person more strongly believes the first information they hear, and fails to give later information the same weight. While claims of abuse certainly should not be taken lightly, it is not and should not be the Daily’s place to cast such judgment on this situation nor to embark on what is effectively a defamation of James, on behalf of Matthew.

This could have been a thoughtful, insightful piece about what may still fall through the cracks of Title IX, how Stanford can ensure that its student leadership is equipped to handle difficult situations and to defer to appropriate authorities when needed, and what happens when one person comes forward much more vocally than another even though both may be similarly hurting. Instead, it feels like overly sensationalized gossip with a Title IX label slapped on in an attempt to lend legitimacy. As a close friend of both Matthew and James during their relationship, I can say with certainty that Wang’s article is an extremely incomplete and biased picture, and I have serious ethical concerns about the nature of this reporting.

As the recently published “On Anonymity” states, Wang’s attempts to anonymize Matthew and James are useless due to the sheer volume of personal information provided. Such a sensitive topic should be handled with far more care to truly protect the identities of those mentioned, especially since Wang herself notes that someone’s identity being revealed could lead to concerns for that person’s safety and well-being.

I am shocked and disappointed that the Daily would allow a piece like this to be published, and I feel strongly that the article should be retracted and that the Daily should seriously reconsider how it approaches situations like this going forward.

–     Vienna Harvey, B.A. Science, Technology, and Society ‘16

Contact Vienna at vwharvey ‘at’ alumni.stanford.edu.

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