Correcting Misinformation

review

In one of the more memorable anecdotes from last term’s “What’s So Great About America” debate, an audience member questioned Dinesh D’Souza about The Dartmouth Review’s record on gay rights in the early 1980s.  As part of his response, Mr. D’Souza corrected what he called “an urban legend history” of this publication and remarked that “the Mother Jones recapitulation [of The Review’s actions] over the last 30 years bears no resemblance to [its actual coverage of the Gay Student Alliance and the group’s misappropriation of College funds].” Although his answer successfully addressed these particular misconceptions, it seems that the Mother Jones’ version of events continues unabated, often times in direct contradiction to the facts at hand.

Witness The Daily Dartmouth’s latest edition of “The Mirror” and a story it ran on the College’s history over the last half century. In a section that chronicles campus social developments throughout the 1980s, its authors devote nine full paragraphs to describing the “slander, destruction, and lawsuits stemming in large part from The Dartmouth Review” and its “[disillusionment] with the direction the College was taking.” Unfortunately, in order to support this simplistic interpretation of events, the article’s authors rely on a selective presentation of the period’s history and render a highly exaggerated account of The Review’s actions. There are five explicit and implied distortions that need to be addressed:

Distortion #1: “In 1983, The Review ran a story describing [former Professor of Music William Cole]… as looking ‘like a used Brillo pad.’”

Fact: In 1983, this paper ran a series of articles that criticized three classes for their “deficient academic standards” and failure to comply with departmental requirements. One of those was Cole’s Music 2 course, whose syllabus was three lines long and whose lectures often had little to do with the American musical tradition. In her initial report, editor Laura Ingraham cited anecdotes from Cole’s racial musings on the first day of class and interviewed a number of students about their perceptions of his teaching style. One individual described Cole as “[looking] like a used Brillo Pad,” an anecdote that was subsequently quoted in one of Ingraham’s editorials. The Review neither originated nor condoned this description; it simply reported it as part of its journalistic due diligence. To suggest that we described him as such is therefore disingenuous and inaccurate.

Distortion #2: “Cole subsequently sued The Review for slander and though the case was ultimately settled outside of court, the tension between Cole and The Review did not subside.”

Fact: Professor Cole lodged a $2.4 million libel suit against this publication and three of its student editors. He charged that their report on his classroom behavior caused him severe “mental, emotional, physical, and financial distress,” yet he failed to specify a single inaccuracy in the entire story. After two years of legal proceedings, Cole was forced to drop his claims against all four defendants because his legal representation was unable to substantively dispute any of the details in Ingraham’s article.

Distortion #3: “In February 1988, several staff members of The Review entered Cole’s classroom with cameras and tape recorders. A scuffle ensued, which resulted in Cole breaking one of the cameras.”

Fact: Three years after the lawsuit had ended, The Review published a follow-up issue on classes whose academic requirements were persistently substandard and included an article about Music 2. Entitled “Bill Cole in His Own Words,” the piece consisted almost exclusively of direct quotes from one of Cole’s lectures. Prior to publishing the issue, The Review acted on the advice of its legal counsel and sought comment from Cole, first over the phone and then in person. Upon seeing the staffers enter his classroom, Cole exploded, calling them “g*ddamn-f*ck*n-*ss-white-boy-racists,” tearing the flashbulb off of photographer John Quilhot’s camera, and telling John Sutter to “come and take” an apology from him. The implications furthered by The D’s use of “scuffle” suggest that Cole’s physicality was somehow reciprocated, which as the reports of eyewitnesses confirm, was not the case. The Reviewers departed the classroom immediately following Cole’s outburst.

Distortion #4: “Cole ultimately left the College in 1990, claiming that his clashes with The Review ‘totally blackballed him.’”

Fact: Cole left the College a full two years after his last run-in with this publication. His mixed reputation on campus was the direct result of his disregard for the College’s academic standards, his proselytizing in the classroom, and his predilection for racial epithets like “honky.” The Review simply exposed these facts for what they were and in no way set out to deliberately “blackball him.”

Distortion #5: “At the beginning of the 1990s, over 2,000 people joined in a Dartmouth United Against Hate rally in an attempt to kindle campus unity and condemn The Review.

Fact: In 1990, much of the campus did indeed participate in a “Rally Against Hate” directed against this publication; however, The Dartmouth’s account of events makes no mention of either the Rally’s impetus or its repercussions. That fall, an unknown saboteur slipped an excerpt from Mein Kampf into this paper’s credo, sparking a campus-wide uproar. When The Review discovered the subterfuge, it immediately retracted and destroyed all outstanding issues and Editor Kevin Pritchett issued a public apology. Rather than comply with Prichett’s request for help in conducting an internal investigation, however, the Freedman Administration publically censured the paper and organized the “Rally Against Hate” to protest its anti-Semitism. After subsequent studies from the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission and the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai B’irth found The Review’s staff (which was at the time over a quarter Jewish) to be free from “any hint of bigotry or prejudice,” many alumni and national media outlets were critical of President Freedman for not conducting a fact-finding mission before assuming that the Hitler quote was a deliberate ploy. The Wall Street Journal even went so far as to call the incident “Dartmouth’s Tawana Bradley case,” and quoted Dinesh D’Souza as saying it made “Mr. Freedman the Al Sharpton of Academia.” Such a momentous controversy was undoubtedly one of the more eventful episodes in the recent history of the College and deserves more than the accusatory and one-sided synopsis that “The Mirror” provided.

Distortion #6: “In Summer’s opinion, this action by Freedman [sic] allowed campus to focus on progressive academic changes. Among these turn-of-the-decade changes were the creation of the minor, the culminating experience as a distributive requirement, the Presidential Scholars program, and the expansion of the Collis Center.”

Fact: The problem with this statement lies not within its specific content (or its grammatical errors), but in its efforts to put a neat and tidy end to the apparent turmoil of the 1980s. While The Review was considerably weakened by the Hitler debacle, the controversy was by no means the end of its involvement on Dartmouth’s campus. Since then, the paper has played an instrumental role in a number of important debates, including President Wright’s Student Life Initiative and the role of alumni in College governance. The fact that one of The Review’s earliest correspondents, Peter Robinson ’79, could later be elected to Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees testifies to the paper’s ability to affect public opinion and have a lasting impact on trends at the College. That influence continues to this day.

Although The Review has undoubtedly changed since the 1980s, its mission remains the same: to serve as Dartmouth’s only independent journal of critical thought and positively impact campus discussion. We like to think that the controversies of yesteryear helped us mature in our orientation to the issues before us and that we can fulfill an important role in the debates of today. It is with that end in mind that we want to encourage anyone with an interest in the paper’s history to view our past issues at their discretion. Our archives, much like the publication as a whole, are always open and ready to serve the campus. All you have to do is give them a read.

 

— Nicholas P. Desatnick

  • NA

    The graph of doctoral recipients by ethnicity is misleading. A huge portion of doctoral recipients in the US are international, and I'm presuming the graph only shows US citizens. I'm willing to bet that if you include internationals, the percentage of young PhD-holders who are not white will be nearly 50%.

  • Hambone

    It’s clear the communists have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in co-opting the “Democrat Party” and what is laughably called “progressivism.”
    They walk, talk, oppress, and riot like communists. Because that’s what they are.
    Drive on, Review! Never surrender!

  • Margarita Margarita

    Your introductory point attempts to counter the contention in the Mother Jones article of a description of Professor William Cole as looking “like a used Brillo Pad” by suggesting the Review was simply reporting on the facts; doing its “journalistic due diligence”.

    The article was, as you suggest, about “‘deficient academic standards’ and failure to comply with departmental requirements”; an article one might expect to present facts regarding attendance, curriculum, interaction, value of information, or any number of other objective measures by which to compare and contrast one academic course against another in presenting an objective criticism of the courses being offered as “deficient”.

    A 2003 piece in the Review by Scott Glabe alleges the article included a transcript of a class that “dissipated into a rambling, cursing, invective-filled soliloquy on poverty in Pittsburgh” and a follow up interview where Cole allegedly called Review staffers “‘racist dogs’, ‘g*ddamned, f*ck*ing, *ssh*le white boy racists,’ and later he even threatened to ‘blow them up'”.
    (Note: Glabe may be confused on the series of events. The transcripts from Dartmouth Review v Dartmouth College suggests the article was published on February 24, 1988 with the referenced altercation taking place on February 25, 1988 when the three student plaintiffs approached Cole following a class)

    Even without more objective measurements, if we are to take the word of Review contributor, there was more than enough justification for the narrative the Review was offering of, at the very least, William Cole’s ineffectiveness as an educator and, at most, an expose on a dangerously unhinged, unprofessional Dartmouth employee.

    And yet, you attempt to paint the inclusion of a student’s tongue-in-cheek description of Cole’s appearance as “journalistic due diligence” in an article you allege to be a about requirement compliance and scholastic guidelines. Did Cole’s brillo-like appearance detract so much from the education of the students it was necessary for inclusion? Was the texture of the professors face one of the dimensions being used to compare his effectiveness to other Dartmouth educators? Amidst his alleged “rambling, cursing” and “invective-filled soliloquy”, was his appearance so daunting it became necessary to ensure its incorporation among what is being purported as a pretty telling expose on an ineffective teacher?

    In your very first attempt to reveal “explicit and implied distortions”, you craft a narrative of an integrity filled journalistic endeavor into the standards of education at an Ivy League institution exposing an irrational professor…while flailing to justify an unrelated physical description of the individual. I don’t have enough information to comment on the allegations of hate and bigotry of the Review, but if this article is any indication, I’d say there’s a serious lack of journalism at the paper.

    http://archive.li/dK53O
    http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/709/32/1587663/