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Can We Handle The Truth?

Have we reached the point that Jack Nicholson’s character in the 1992 movie, “A Few Good Men,” is right? Can we not handle the truth?

Ask the staff of the student newspaper at Northwestern University, which has a highly respected school of journalism. A few days ago, nine staff members of The Daily Northwestern apologized in an editorial for telling the truth.

You may remember the movie. Nicholson plays Col. Nathan Jessep, who ordered Marines under his command to haze one of their comrades. The young man died and a trial ensued.

Jessep’s defense was, in essence, that his job (commanding at Guantanamo Bay) was tougher and more critical than anyone realized. Testifying in court, he was badgered to tell the truth.

“You can’t handle the truth,” he barked out.

Apparently Northwestern University students can’t, either. The paper apologized in print for its coverage of a speech by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced,” the paper’s editorial stated in apologizing for sending reporters and a photographer to cover protesters. “Some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive,” the editorial explained.

“Retraumatizing?” What, pray tell, was the original trauma? Sessions merely being on campus? And as far as photos of protesters, well, if you’re going to make news by protesting a speech, you’re inviting being photographed by the press.

Most of us in newsrooms believe it’s our job to inform you as fully and accurately as we can. But at the Daily Northwestern, “nothing is more important than ensuring that our fellow students feel safe.”

From what? A fellow with whom you disagree giving a speech?

Much of the editorial’s jargon, similar to the “retraumatized” claim, sets the tone. “We know we hurt students that night, especially those who identify with marginalized groups.” How? By reporting the news?

The speech and protests were “distressing experiences” and the paper’s “reporting and empathy fell short last week.”

If this is Northwestern’s version of journalism in 2019, it is, in three words, crazy, wrong and irresponsible.

Journalists report the news. We aren’t supposed to take sides. We surely aren’t supposed to cover the news differently because a bunch of coddled kids see events as “distressing.”

Since when did telling the truth “harm students?”

If the rising generation of journalists truly believes we can’t handle the truth, we’re in big trouble.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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