Sunday, October 29, 2006

Not to Offend You My Dearest Liege, But Your Ass Is Hanging Out.

Today an editorial in the CDT takes Penn State to task for the way it controlled the flow of information last weekend following a stand-off and suicide at the on-campus Nittany Apartments. Here is the core of the editorial.

Last week, tragically, a young man visiting his sister at Penn State shot and killed himself in a campus apartment after an eight-hour standoff with police.

The incident raised many, many questions, and it is the job of the fallible men and women who work at this institution to ask them, even the tough ones.

How many students were in danger? Was alcohol involved? Was this just an isolated incident? How safe is the campus? Did the police handle the situation properly?

In matters involving public safety and law enforcement, these questions are usually directed to -- and answered by -- law-enforcement officials and their overseers. But because this incident occurred at Penn State, all information released to the public came from Penn State -- from highly capable professionals, certainly, but from the university, nonetheless. Police directed all questions to Old Main.

Certainly, Penn State officials had insights, perspective and critical information regarding the tragic events of last Saturday night and Sunday morning. But so did police -- those employed by the university and those who work for other government agencies.

The public had a right to hear them, too, especially because the matter involved the public's own safety and fears for it. In this case, however, off-campus authorities were muzzled.

There should be no surprise that I agree completely with the CDT on this issue. Old Main cannot be trusted to give an unvarnished picture of anything which might tarnish the image of Penn State. I am glad that the CDT has come around to this opinion. But there was something very disturbing about the way this editorial was written.

The above passage was buried deep in the editorial, the bulk of which was taken up with defending the papers obligation to express the opinion. It went on and on about how good Penn State is to everyone and how the CDT was only doing its job as a watchdog. Well, the effect was to make the CDT appear not as a watchdog, but rather as a beat dog. (For more on this topic, see these previous post: 1, 2, 3, and 4. ) Nonetheless, this is a good first step for the paper. I hope that in the future the paper will be more confident in its role as watchdog.

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