Letter from the editor: On intentionality in our Robert Spencer coverage

Opinion by Ada Statler
Nov. 14, 2017, 1:00 a.m.

You’ve probably heard by now that the Stanford College Republicans are bringing Robert Spencer to campus, and you’ve likely even read about it in our publication. We’ve covered Spencer’s upcoming speaking event in our news section, and we have published op-eds from community members with all sorts of opinions on the event. And this morning, we ran a full-page ad written by Spencer himself and supported by the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

It’s a controversial topic, and we want to be transparent about why we are covering the event in the ways that we are.

In some ways, it seems inevitable that the debate over free speech on college campuses would come to Stanford; it’s why before Spencer’s visit to campus was even announced, our Editorial Board took on the issue of free speech in an age of intentional controversy. We found that as a college newspaper, we have “a duty to defend free speech, but we also recognize that we bear a certain responsibility in promoting speech that is constructive and useful.”

Here’s what this means for our coverage at The Stanford Daily.

1. We will continue to report on Spencer with intentionality.

Our news section will cover both the Stanford College Republicans’ event and any rallies and other forms of protest that arise in relation to the event. As a publication, we write about student group events and prominent speakers every week. The Stanford College Republicans’ event fits into these categories. We also always have our eye out for campus activism and student reception to speaker events; thus, we will likewise cover any related protests.

2. We will continue to share and protect all community voices.

Op-eds published in The Daily are, by nature, intended to share community voices, not represent our paper, and so we will continue to run op-ed submissions from different perspectives on the Spencer issue. This assumes, of course, that submissions meet our usual standards of quality and do not contain threatening language or hate speech. It also means that those who are brave enough to share their voices will be protected from threatening language and hate speech of the variety that sometimes pops up in the comment section — we can and will ban users.

3. We will donate Spencer’s ad money to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The ASSU Senate decided to fund security costs for the Stanford College Republicans event because its job is to support all student groups and provide equal opportunity. However, the ASSU explicitly did not endorse (and even criticized) Spencer’s ideological preachings. Likewise, The Stanford Daily is doing its job to promote free speech and open dialogue by allowing Spencer to respond to claims made about him in our paper. However, we support our Muslim readers and community members, and we do not seek to profit from hateful ideology. Instead, we will use this money to support ICIJ, a group that works to cover quality, border-crossing investigative stories in a time when— as Spencer’s event demonstrates — global issues are more locally relevant than ever.

4. We are paying careful attention to other campus news and urge you to do so, too.

Just as we remain committed to covering Spencer-related news, we remain dedicated to not sensationalizing the topic, either. Last week, I was interviewed by a local TV station that repeatedly asked leading questions suggesting that as a news editor, I would be happy about the controversy and potential action on campus. I found this astounding.

Islamophobia and free speech are important topics, but sensationalization can overwhelm other ethically important issues. In just the last week or two, we have also reported on sexual assault allegations against Stanford professors and the lowering of financial burdens to Stanford applicants. These stories affect the community substantially — and we suspect that Spencer’s arrival to campus won’t magically stop other significant news events from occurring.

My guess is as good as anyone’s as to what precise events will unfold over the course of Spencer’s visit. What I can say with certainty is that we value providing a service to our community and will continue striving to do so in the most intentional and conscientious way possible.

Ada Statler

Editor-in-chief, Volume 252

[email protected]


Ada Statler '18 is an earth systems major hailing from Kansas City (on the Kansas side, not Missouri). She's most passionate about environmental journalism, but cares about all things campus-related.

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