Broadly Speaking: When No One Watches the Watchdog

Opinion by Molly Spaeth
April 13, 2010, 12:34 a.m.

Broadly Speaking: When No One Watches the WatchdogWell, I’m back.

And I’m nervous.

I’m nervous because it’s my first column in two months; I’m nervous because I just drank three cups of coffee; but most of all, I’m nervous because I’m about to criticize the organization that just gave me my voice back.

And as we saw last week, the Daily Editorial Board doesn’t exactly respond well to criticism.

As I swallow my fourth cup of coffee (and hopefully some courage), I’d like to remind you of the three major independent reporting publications on campus and the roles they play in promoting transparency and accountability both within the ASSU and the University at large. The Stanford Progressive and The Stanford Review, while absolutely fundamental in promoting campus dialogue, represent two of the smaller publications and are admittedly influenced by particular ideological leanings. The Stanford Daily, on the other hand, has staked its reputation on being the preeminent and largest objective independent reporting institution on campus. The paper plays an absolutely fundamental role in playing watchdog over campus life, perhaps falling only behind the ASSU in its power and its clout.

Last week, the Editorial Board announced its endorsement of Cardona-Wharton for ASSU Executive. Whether or not you agree with whom they endorsed is frankly irrelevant; at the end of the endorsement it was harder to tell why exactly they supported Cardona-Wharton in terms of anything other than the fact that they weren’t Thom and Stephanie [Ed. Note: a competing executive slate]. Instead of adhering to the responsibilities of what any sentient being would assume is the Editorial Board’s job (namely, providing a largely uninformed student electorate with fair and accurate information illuminating why a specific slate was best suited for the job), the Editorial Board used two of the editorial’s seven total paragraphs detailing in very explicit adjectives (petty, vindictive, unfortunate, refusal, unbecoming) why a slate it did not even interview would represent the very stagnation of effectiveness within the ASSU as we know it. This argument was made not on the basis of substantive, tangible points like their platform (which the Editorial Board admitted was quite good) but on the basis of their “petty vindictiveness.” Furthermore, this evaluation of their character was made not through an interview (which Thom and Stephanie declined) but on the basis of petty assumptions.

Thom and Stephanie’s very act of refusing the interview for the Daily endorsement put a negligible crack in the Editorial Board’s monolithic credibility. But that negligible crack became a crushing self-inflicted blow when the Editorial Board disguised its own disingenuous attempt to defend its institutional credibility as an endorsement for Cardona-Wharton. In resorting to the same level of petty politics they claimed was espoused by Thom and Stephanie, the Editorial Board sacrificed not only their credibility, but also its integrity.

The bigger lesson here is not so much who the Daily Editorial Board endorsed or who it didn’t, but that it completely overstepped its boundaries and used its power not to educate, but to deprecate. The Daily may be by far the biggest independent reporting publication on campus, but that doesn’t mean it has any right to not be held accountable for its actions. When the power of The Stanford Daily, an institution whose importance in influencing student affairs is comparable to the ASSU but whose leadership is not elected by the greater student body, remains unchecked, any hope for accountability in student governance as a whole is put in jeopardy. If the watchdog can’t even hold itself accountable, how can we expect it to hold any single other aspect of this University accountable?

This criticism is, more than anything, a plea. A plea for accountability, a plea for objectivity and most of all a plea that the members of the Editorial Board remember not only what their responsibilities are, but who they are to. The Editorial Board wields an enormous amount of power, but they need to remember that this power is given to them with the caveat that it be used responsibly. In the “petty vindictiveness” of their last endorsement, the Editorial Board inevitably perpetuated exactly that which they were trying to avoid: a blow to their credibility. It is now time that the members of the Editorial Board check their own egos and realize that they have a far greater responsibility to the student body, to decent journalism and to their own human integrity to be fundamentally better than petty politics.

Molly has (hopefully) started writing again for the Daily. However, if she’s not here next week, she either got silenced by the Editorial Board or went into the WPP. Shoot her an e-mail at [email protected].

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