The Daily Northwestern Embroiled in Controversy After Apologizing for Coverage of Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions Appearance

The Daily Northwestern student newspaper has been subjected to a backlash after an apologetic editorial on how a protest was covered.

The Daily Northwestern is the student newspaper at Northwestern University, which is published on weekdays during the academic year. The newspaper is staffed by undergraduates, who are often students at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. However, the newspaper is owned by the Students Publishing Company, and is not affiliated with the Medill School of Journalism, which consists of graduate and undergraduate programs at Northwestern University.

On November 10, 2019 in an article published in The Daily Northwestern, eight members of the staff of The Daily Northwestern apologized for re-traumatizing protesters because the newspaper’s reporters and photojournalists covered a campus protest event. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was Northwestern University College Republicans’ fall speaker on Tuesday November 5, 2019 in Lutkin Hall.

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro on Friday November 8, 2019 praised the University’s response to former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech on campus, but he also questioned Northwestern University College Republicans’ decision to host him in the first place (for Sessions’ speech on “The Real Meaning of the Trump Agenda”).

Ahead of the event “Night of Action” protester organizers described Sessions as a racist, homophobic, transphobic, islamophobic (sic), xenophobic, misogynistic, corrupt white supremacist & bigot. The organizers declared “we must make sure it’s known that his views are not welcome here.”

“This is about so much more than just Jeff Sessions. This is not about a single politician or a single protest. This is about creating a widespread movement to mobilize Americans across the country to show Donald Trump and his cronies who we really are and what we really stand for. This is a national movement to disavow the discriminatory rhetoric and policies that this President has pushed since the beginning of his campaign. We hope you’ll join us.”

— Night of Action Organizers

According to The Daily Northwestern reporting on Schapiro’s address at Family Event Weekend, about 150 students protested the event, some holding signs, others chanting obscenities, some storming the back entrance to Lutkin Hall, and attempting to enter the Lutkin Hall by climbing through windows and opening doors. Northwestern University Police officers followed students into Lutkin, knocking some protesters to the ground and pushing others out, according to The Daily Northwestern report. After the protests, students sought expansion of counseling, and peaceful engagement training for the Northwestern University Police Department; and students with “marginalized identities” sought attendance allowances or attendance leniency for participating in the protest.

“And I think that you give (the protesters) credit. If they put themselves on the line and their academic future for something they believe in, and they really do violate the rules and disrupt free speech, God bless them. But our job is to make sure they have consequences, otherwise, we’re not educators.”

— Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro

Much of the anxiety and traumatization was apparently students’ fears that they may face consequences for their participation in the “Night of Action” protest.

Excerpts from The Daily Northwestern Apology …

“One area of our reporting that harmed many students was our photo coverage of the event (protesters at Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking event). Some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive. Those photos have since been taken down. On one hand, as the paper of record for Northwestern, we want to ensure students, administrators and alumni understand the gravity of the events that took place Tuesday night. However, we decided to prioritize the trust and safety of students who were photographed. We feel that covering traumatic events requires a different response than many other stories. While our goal is to document history and spread information, nothing is more important than ensuring that our fellow students feel safe — and in situations like this, that they are benefitting from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it. We failed to do that last week, and we could not be more sorry.

Some students also voiced concern about the methods that Daily staffers used to reach out to them. Some of our staff members who were covering the event used Northwestern’s directory to obtain phone numbers for students beforehand and texted them to ask if they’d be willing to be interviewed. We recognize being contacted like this is an invasion of privacy, and we’ve spoken with those reporters — along with our entire staff — about the correct way to reach out to students for stories.”

“As a campus newspaper covering a student body that can be very easily and directly hurt by the University, we must operate differently than a professional publication in these circumstances.”

THE APOLOGY …
The Daily Northwestern | Addressing The Daily’s coverage of Sessions protests

Gutfeld and The Five discuss The Daily Northwestern’s apology.

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