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Letters to the Editor: Hypocrisy exposed

by The Pendulum,

The Elon community responds to "Hypocrisy exposed." In response to this an other feedback, The Pendulum published a follow-up editorial. If you have an opinion or comment on one of The Pendulum's articles please write a letter to the editor.  All letters must be signed and emailed to pendulum@elon.edu. 

Dec. 7, 2011

I am writing in response to the Dec. 7, 2011 issue of The Pendulum. As I picked it up to use as a procrastination tool while studying for my finals this evening, I was astonished by the editorial that took up nearly the entire front page. And as the "Pendulum staff questions sincerity behind university's pursuit of free speech," I too am forced to question the Pendulum staff's understanding of the first amendment and the freedoms it grants.

The Elon administration has not acted in any way that violates free speech of Hilary Stevenson or The Pendulum. Hilary Stevenson is in no way a victim of the university and its "hypocrisy," she is merely a victim of her own poor judgment. The first amendment does not protect her in this case whatsoever. Stevenson confessed to a crime and should be punished accordingly, regardless of the fact that her confession was printed in The Pendulum.

While I do empathize with Ms. Stevenson, I cannot support her or The Pendulum's claim of the violation of free speech when the claim is so astonishingly inaccurate. Let me be clear, I in no way support Elon University's policies towards drugs and alcohol, but as they stand Hilary Stevenson has confessed to not only a violation of university policy, but a violation of Federal law. She chose to forsake her anonymity and The Pendulum cheapens its reputation by making these claims in her defense. Speak candidly about underage alcohol use if you wish to do so, but face the consequences of your actions.

Furthermore, I would also like to inform The Pendulum staff that their article did not influence the new membership policy at Tap House. After speaking to Tap House employees as well as employees at The Local 506 in Chapel Hill (which has recently implemented the same membership rules as Tap House) it is clear that your article did not influence this decision. The staff at both establishments confirmed that North Carolina law requires membership because they serve liquor but no food.

I do understand the concern of The Pendulum and its staff regarding the creation of an environment where students are fearful of speaking out. I do not think there is any need to worry about this. I, for one, would be more concerned about creating an environment where the student newspaper lacks credibility.

The Pendulum has the responsibility to respect its readers by printing quality journalism and showing an understanding of the laws that protect it. It should not risk its integrity in the defense of a student who chose her own fate by confessing to a crime. That's just me being honest.

Chase Pitman
Class of 2013

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Dec. 7, 2011

To the Staff of The Pendulum:

Today's screaming front-page editorial, "Hypocrisy Exposed," is based on flawed logic and false analogies. The most offensive paragraph is this one:

Despite Elon's commitment to an open exchange of information and students' right to free speech, the administration has hypocritically chosen to stifle the student body's voice through a blatant act of censorship.

This is simply wrong. Neither the newspaper nor the student's voice, were censored by the university administration. What happened is that a student confessed to a crime in the pages of The Pendulum and may face a penalty for doing so, if the confession turns out to be true. Hilary Stevenson told a reporter, "she had a fake ID that made it easy for her to drink underage." It is illegal to possess a fake ID, it is illegal to drink underage, and both crimes are clear violations of Elon's Honor Code. Her confessions to these crimes were published in the newspaper. The university has a right, and an obligation, to investigate whether or not this student is telling the truth and has actually violated law and policy.

No one stole the paper from the racks; no one told the reporter not to write the story. There was no repression of free speech, no restriction of freedom of the press, no censorship at all.

The reporter should have warned the source more than once about the possible consequences of using her real name in the story. If this was not the case, or if the reporter encouraged the source to use her real name in the confession, the reporter is guilty of ethical misconduct.

Confessing to a crime in print does not offer immunity from prosecution. If I told The Pendulum I have a universal key that allows me to start up any car I wish and go for joy rides (I don't, for the record), I would not be immune from investigation.

What is really a shame here is that if a real issue arises where the university is actually in the wrong, The Pendulum's credibility as a crusader for justice may be compromised by this sensationalized and wrongheaded editorial stance.

As a side note, the editorial dominates the page, while the explanatory story plays second fiddle at the bottom of the page. This layout could be confusing to readers unfamiliar with the situation.

The Pendulum is a lab and a learning tool, and all students involved produce an amazing product. Your awards and accolades speak for themselves, and I applaud your commitment to good journalism. In this final issue of the semester, however, you have violated the tenets of good journalism with this misguided editorial stance.

My reason for writing is to provide a perspective as a professor and practitioner of journalism for the purposes of education. We have all made mistakes – and yes, I consider this a mistake – and we have the opportunity to learn from mistakes and to move on. I look forward to future editions of this excellent newspaper, and I wish you well.

Sincerely,
Anthony Hatcher, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Communications

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Dec. 8, 2011

I am writing in response to the headline in yesterday's paper. For a while now, the Pendulum has slowly been sliding away from reporting the news and sliding towards reporting on its own agenda, but the Dec. 7 headline "Hypocrisy Exposed" (in a font so big real newspapers only use it only when we declare war or win a sports championship) was just blatant yellow journalism. If you do not believe me or need a refresher as to what that is, look at the Wikipedia definition of yellow journalism and tell me the Pendulum is not guilty of most these things:

Frank Luther Mott (1941) defines yellow journalism in terms of five characteristics:
-scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news
-lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings
-use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudo-science, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts
-emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips (which is now normal in the U.S.)
-dramatic sympathy with the "underdog" against the system.

The Pendulum is trying to make a huge story out of an alleged free speech violation, but the only story is that the original reporter Grace Elkus failed to do the one thing reporters should do; which is to protect her source. Now I know nothing about journalism, but I do know that many professional reporters, such as Judith Miller, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada to name a few, have gone to jail or have been threatened with jail time to give up their sources, yet they refused to do so. But because Elkus freely named her source in her article, Stevenson now is in trouble. Smith Jackson alluded to this in the current article when he said:

"If students are violating policies or laws, I think it's certainly better for them not to give their names or put themselves in these situations," Jackson said. "Would the story have had a bigger impact for me as a reader if you said 'a sophomore with whom we spoke said this?' That would have been just as informative to me as it would to have used someone's name."

Never in my 21 years have I read a newspaper with an editorial as the headline. If you all as a Pendulum staff think there is hypocrisy going on, leave it in the op-ed page. But putting it on the front page puts you in the same league as a magazine like Rolling Stone or the Drudge Report, where you make no attempts to hide your own agenda. If I want my news with a dose of liberal commentary, I'll read Rolling Stone. If I want to hear about the conservative side of things, I'll read the Drudge Report. But when I pick up the Pendulum on Wednesdays, I just want to read about what is going on around campus. Instead of doing your job, which is to objectively report the news which goes on around Elon, you are trying to by sway opinion to agree with what you think and create a scandal that is not there.

Obviously, this is not a free speech issue, this is a bad journalism issue. It's a shame because my first three years I looked forward to getting the Pendulum every Wednesday; it just seems that this year the quality and the journalistic integrity has gone down. I am not the only one who thinks this. The Pendulum has lost a lot of respect with faculty and students in the Elon community.

Tyler Zoda
Class of 2012

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Dec. 8, 2011

Dear Editor,

Since arriving to Elon as a transfer student, I have from time to time kept tabs on the school I used to go to through the website of their student newspaper. This habit has allowed me to make some critical comparisons between The Elon Pendulum and The GW Hatchet. Both are school newspapers sponsored by their respective universities, both are staffed and run by students and both from time to time will stir up controversy with a particularly hard-hitting story. Until recently, both papers had my trust to be honest and employ good journalistic ethics in their editorials and feature pieces. 

I admit that I have a unique perspective on the situation, but I speak for a multitude of Elon students when I say that The Pendulum has lost my trust. Rather than being a pillar of Elon's society in the same way the press has been a pillar of democracy, The Pendulum has stooped to the low of sensational, reactionary and quite frankly yellow journalism I would expect from Rupert Murdoch. Cries of censorship are not to be uttered as blithely as it seems The Pendulum has done. Accusing Elon University of violating your Constitutional right to freedom of the press is as alarming as it is distasteful and disrespectful to your fellow students. The student handbook and the honor pledge we all signed are clear as to what is and is not acceptable as an Elon student. Our deans are not an evil cadre out to get us, but respectful individuals who hold us to the honor-bound pledges we agreed to as students. Do I agree with everything they have ever done? Of course not. Do I think that The Pendulum is in the wrong in this case? Most certainly.

Natalie Maines cried censorship when she spoke out against President Bush in 2003 and people stopped buying Dixie Chicks records as a result. The constitution provides freedom of speech, not freedom from consequence. Your failure to recant your accusation of censorship, and the fact that you " question the motive behind the administration's actions." (The Pendulum Responds to Community Feedback 12/8/2011)  makes me wonder if you understand that actions and words do indeed have immutable consequences. The Hatchet has never cried censorship, and quite frankly never would. Take a lesson from The Hatchet, Pendulum. Your readers and the Elon community deserve far better than what you have passed off on us this far. 

Pat McLendon
Class of 2012