Letter to the Editors: Recent Former Editors on Nov. 7, 2023 Issue

As recent former editors of the Tripod, we write to express our concern with recent editorial decisions of the paper. The Tripod’s mission for Trinity has always been to foster a place of public trust. Recent editorial decisions, however, demonstrate a breach of that public trust.

The Tripod ought to seriously reconsider its editorial policy and return the paper to the esteemed position it ought to hold—as a voice for the entire Trinity community and not as an outlet for a limited and partisan perspective of the student body.

Two editorial choices in recent weeks concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are at odds with the conventions of respected national newspapers (the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among others) and belie fundamental principles of journalistic integrity.

The first concerns the editorial viewpoint on the front page of the November 7th edition of the Tripod. The piece—titled “Trinity College Responds Tepidly to the Genocide of Palestinian People”—cannot, by any objective measure, be called a news article. It is rife with opinion and editorial positions. For instance, there is no evidence of contrary perspectives from Trinity’s Jewish community. Nor is there any indication that the authors of the article sought comment from the administration itself, who was the subject of strong rebuke. It is plainly an opinion article. Opinion articles rarely—if ever —belong on the front page. And, if they do, the editors of the paper would have made clear that whatever appeared was labeled what it is: opinion. For that matter, a well-written opinion would have acknowledged and responded to contrary viewpoints. 

A paper of such import to the community, such as the Tripod, should not print an editorial viewpoint on the front page without any label or indication of opinion. This decision is one the Tripod should commit, in writing, to never do again. The Tripod is not a “partisan” paper. It may take an editorial stance, but it should always ensure a balance of opinions, no matter how divisive.

Most disconcerting is the fact that the article is signed “News Team.” This is not common today among reputable papers and it is not a practice that the Tripod has applied in recent memory. In effect, it is a form of partial anonymity that protects Tripod staffers (who, it bears mention, need no protection). The job of the news team is not to express opinion. That is the job of the editorial board (whose members should be publicly identified). If members of the news team fear retribution, they should not hold such an important office of the paper. Recreant editors ought to have no place on the Tripod.

The news team of the Tripod has breached its important role of objective, fact-based reporting and undermined the trust of the community. It has shown its viewpoint and abandoned its purpose of reporting the news by instead reporting opinions. That breach of the public trust will take time to repair—as will the integrity of the paper.

The second issue concerns the publication of anonymous opinion pieces, specifically those titled “Humanizing Palestine: The Land With People Occupied By Those Without a Land” and “Europe’s Epochal Legacy: The Art of Dehumanization in the Context of Israel’s War on Gaza.” Both of these articles may well be published, but should not have been published under the pale of anonymity.

One of the editors below authored the Tripod’s policy on anonymous articles that has been “invoked” in both of the anonymous articles the Tripod published.In the view of these former editors, the Tripod’s use of anonymity in recent weeks is misplaced and inconsistent with the policy. Anonymity should be used only when credible issues of safety are at risk and the paramount importance of an opinion’s absence may become known. Anonymity should also be accompanied by an editorial statement explaining the decision (which is, it bears mention, the general policy of the New York Times). Here, there was no editorial statement explaining the decision.

Anonymity is among the most dangerous tools in the public sphere—it shields authors from accountability, invites opinions that misstate or disregard contrary facts, and stifles discourse. At base, an opinion is only as strong as its author who stands behind his or her own words. It is clear, by the absence of any contrary perspective in the paper, that frequent use of anonymity has corrupted free discourse and that the author of these articles lacks the resolve to argue their viewpoints respectfully in the public sphere. An author who does not stand by his or her viewpoint does not deserve space to comment in a respected paper; such anonymous viewpoints are better suited to the transient realm of social media.

It is our hope that the leadership of the Tripod, particularly both of its Editors-in-Chief, will work together to instill in their staff a renewed focus on the central tenets of journalism central to good reporting and restore the paper to a respected place at Trinity.

-Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor-in-Chief, 2020-2021

 Managing Editor, 2019-2020

News Editor, 2018-2019

-Kip Lynch ’22

Executive Editor, 2021-2022

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  1. 1
    David Copland

    Messrs. Clark and Lynch got it right. Specifically, that the Nov. 7 front page piece – which is still dominating the Homepage online as I write this two weeks later – “cannot, by any objective measure, be called a news article.” Moreover, “The Tripod is not a “partisan” paper.” If you want a partisan paper, start a club and stop taking College funds. While you are at it, especially given the access to information we all have in the palm of our hands, think about whether The Tripod is the right place for such recent stories covering news from Pakistan, Int’l Declaration re AI, Congo, New Orleans, Sudan. I think The Tripod’s efforts would be much better spent on original Trinity news than regurgitating coverage from other outlets. Best regards, David Copland, News Editor 1988

  2. 2
    Steve Safran

    Bravo to my fellow Tripod editors and their thoughtful reply. In itself, it shows how a proper opinion piece should be written. Journalism means accountability, and anonymity isn’t a shield, it is a tool. If any of you are considering a career in journalism, I suggest much better practices. In the real world, we journalists stand proudly by our work with our names. You’ve heard from the genuinely concerned alumni. What’s your response?
    Steve Safran ‘90 P ‘18, Features Editor, 1988-1990

  3. 3
    David W. Green '71

    As a former Tripod editor whose tenure in 1969 coincided with the upheavals of the Vietnam War era, I have found the present partisan and aggressive tone of the Tripod a welcome development and positive expression of renewed student activism.

    The former editors complain that the partisan tone of the Tripod is “at odds with the conventions of respected national newspapers (the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among others) and belie fundamental principles of journalistic integrity.” I would take that as a compliment. The much-vaunted “objectivity” of the NYT has been exposed by the role it played in propagating the “weapons of mass destruction” lie that played such a critical role in justifying the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Moreover, its former editor, Bill Keller, boasted of the NY Times “right” to withhold information from the public. As a description of its coverage of the wars in Ukraine and Israel’s assault on Gaza, “integrity” is just about the last word that comes to mind.

    A more basic issue is raised by the former editors’ criticisms. They imply that “objectivity” requires neutrality and indifference in the coverage and assessment of events. In practice, such deceptive objectivity generally ignores critical facts and serves to conceal the economic, political, and social interests that largely determine what events are covered and how they are covered. The selection of “facts” that are deemed to be important is not a value-free process. The Times, a major corporate entity, generally excludes from its coverage “facts” that conflict with the official line of US foreign policy.

    The onslaught on Gaza has resulted, to date, in the confirmed deaths of 14,000 Palestinians, of which more than half are women and children. Leading human rights officials have described the slaughter as genocide. In the face of such a monstrous crime against humanity, do Trinity students really want their college newspaper to strive for a false objectivity that pretends that all views — pro and contra genocide — are equally valid?

    Genuine objectivity strives for the highest level of accuracy in its coverage of events. But that is an objectivity whose narrative uncovers the logic of events, identifies the critical facts, and places them in their essential historical and contemporary context.

    Tripod editors should draw their inspiration from the example of William Lloyd Garrison’s “Liberator,” not The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
    David W. Green ’71

  4. 4
    Eric Johnson-DeBaufre

    David W. Green’s comment above provides a fine example of a performative contradiction. It finds fault with the New York Times for its selective inclusion of only certain facts in its coverage–and, by extension, its exclusion of other facts–and then proceeds to commit exactly the same fault. He omits, for example, that Hamas, not Israel, better merits the charge of having committed genocide, since its 1988 charter repeatedly stresses that the organization’s “struggle against the Jews” necessarily involves both the killing of Jews (see Article Seven) and the obliteration of Israel.

    And then there is the horrific mass murder of 1,200 Israelis by Hamas militants on October 7, a crime about which both Green and the Tripod’s “News team” are distressingly silent. The violence that day was intimate, involving both the shooting of Jewish victims at close range and, in some cases, beheading them. The killers recorded these murders, both to inspire future militants to do the same and perhaps to terrify those they took captive.

    For Jews, these murders resembled those committed by Nazi police battalions in places like Jozefow or Lomazy, where the shooters murdered, in each place, more than 1,000 Jews in a single day. If one wants to begin to understand Israel’s violent reaction to these murders, one would do well to consider that 2 million Jews–one third of all those killed during the Holocaust–were murdered in precisely this way. Given both this history and Hamas’s repeated declarations of war against Israel and Jewry more generally, it is understandable that Israelis viewed the killings on October 7th as an act of genocide.

    Finally, there is Green’s omission of the fact that in 2004 the New York Times issued an apology for its misleading coverage on the Iraq War and the issue of “weapons of mass destruction.” Admitting one’s error is what good and serious newspapers do when they make mistakes. It remains to be seen whether the Tripod will be such a paper.

    Eric Johnson-DeBaufre

  5. 5
    David W. Green

    Mr. Johnson-DeBaufre comparison of the desperate attack launched by Hamas on Israelis, after breaking out of the Gazan ghetto, with the Holocaust betrays ignorance of the political background of the events of October 7 and the uniquely horrifying nature and scale of the Holocaust implemented by the Nazis.The comparison has the effect of trivializing an event for which there was no precedent in world history. Nazi Germany, the most powerful state in Europe, organized the systematic deportation of Jews from all countries under its control to industrially-organized extermination centers. A vast bureaucratic apparatus was involved in the planning and execution of “the Final Solution.” The program of mass murder was abetted by pro-Nazi regimes in occupied countries.

    Serious scholars of the Holocaust have spoken out strongly against the provocative and disorienting comparison of the events of October 7 to the Nazi annihilation of European Jewry. The New York Review of Books has posted “An Open Letter on the Misuse of Holocaust Memory,” dated November 20, 2023 by Professors Omer Bartov, Christopher R. Browning, Jane Caplan, Debórah Dwork, Michael Rothberg and other leading historians. The authors express their “dismay and disappointment at political leaders and notable public figures invoking Holocaust memory to explain the current crisis in Gaza and Israel.”

    They write that “appealing to the memory of the Holocaust obscures our understanding of the antisemitism Jews face today, and dangerously misrepresents the causes of violence in Israel-Palestine. The Nazi genocide involved a state—and its willing civil society—attacking a tiny minority, which then escalated to a continent-wide genocide. Indeed, comparisons of the crisis unfolding in Israel-Palestine to Nazism and the Holocaust—above all when they come from political leaders and others who can sway public opinion—are intellectual and moral failings.”

    The historians reject the false and inflammatory narrative that is being utilized to legitimize the onslaught of the Israeli state — which controls the most powerful military force in the Middle East — against Gaza. They write:

    “Insisting that ‘Hamas are the new Nazis’—while holding Palestinians collectively responsible for Hamas’s actions—attributes hardened, antisemitic motivations to those who defend Palestinian rights. It also positions the protection of Jewish people against the upholding of international human rights and laws, implying that the current assault on Gaza is a necessity. And invoking the Holocaust to dismiss demonstrators calling for a ‘free Palestine’ fuels the repression of Palestinian human rights advocacy and the conflation of antisemitism with criticism of Israel.” [https://www.nybooks.com/online/2023/11/20/an-open-letter-on-the-misuse-of-holocaust-memory/]

    The events of October 7 are certainly of a tragic character and it is appropriate to mourn the loss of so many lives. But what occurred on that day was the outcome of a long history of oppression by the Israeli state. Moreover, it is unconscionable to invoke the Holocaust — a crime for which the Palestinians were in no way responsible — as justification for the dropping of 2000 pound bombs on a densely populated urban area, resulting in the indiscriminate killing, as of this date, of somewhere between 14,000 and 20,000 Gazans.

    David W. Green ’71

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