Today I met with the editor-in-chief of my campus’s notoriously offensive and incompetent tax-funded newspaper. At one point, we began explaining how “interviewing an uninformed bystander” cannot serve as a replacement for actual information. As an illustration, I referred her to last year’s coverage of Take Back the Night. In an effort to seem “balanced,” the reporter interviewed uninformed bystanders (who weren’t actually in attendance at the event). The journalistic method looked something like this: for every anti-rape activist you interview, you must interview someone who disagrees with that anti-rape activist. If that anti-rape activist’s argument is “rape is a problem on campus,” then you must, apparently, find someone that you can quote saying that rape is not, in fact, in their opinion, a problem on campus. This maintains objectivity, I guess. Observe:
The issues involved with Take Back the Night particularly should resonate with students on MSU’s campus, Spencer said. She said she believes the general attitude about rape needs to change.
Hospitality business freshman Lizzy Braxton agreed sexual violence still is in today’s culture, but she does not see sexual violence being an issue on MSU’s campus.
“(My friends and I) don’t see it. We don’t notice it. We don’t know anyone who has been sexually assaulted here,” Braxton said. “We don’t see it as a big deal.”
Microbiology sophomore Patrick Ropp also hasn’t seen the effects of sexual violence.
“I’m a sophomore, and I haven’t really encountered any sexual violence (or) sexual abuse since I’ve been here,” he said. “I’m sure it has potential, but I haven’t run into it yet.”
Let’s tally this up:
- number of anti-rape activists/Take Back the Night participants interviewed: 4 women
- number of (self-proclaimed) survivors interviewed: 1 woman
- number of bystanders who did not participate in TBTN interviewed saying that they think rape is nbd: 2 (1 woman, 1 man)
- number of statistics or figures cited: 0
After explaining how this is a problem I suggested, in the future, using well-regarded sources like the Clery Report in articles like this, in order to avoid misleading the public or reducing a sexual assault prevalence to a matter of opinion.
She said to me, “Have you ever tried to find the Clery Report?”
I said, “…yes? I often have it with me in situations like these.”
I couldn’t believe my fucking ears. This paid, powerful journalist was trying to argue that it’s prohibitively difficult to find the Clery Report. Let’s break this down:
For those of you who don’t know, the Clery Act was signed in 1990 and it requires all universities that receive financial aid to disclose crime on campus. They are required to publish this in a report at the beginning of the Fall semester and to make an attempt to distribute it to every student. At MSU, we get an email at the time of publication which usually has both a link to the Clery Report as well as an attachment. We also often get campus safety emails in the event of a high-profile violent crime which link to the Clery Report. It is required by law for the university to make this information easily accessible.
Now, I certainly don’t think the Clery Report is perfect. It’s subject to under-reporting, complications in the judiciary system on campus, and police corruption. But the fact remains that it does show that at least a handful of rapes are reported to MSU police every year, and thus it shows that rape is, in fact, “a big deal.” Or, anyway, the existence of these statistics demonstrates that interviewing peoples’ opinions on the prevalence of rape is totally irrelevant and unprofessional. Would you, as a journalist, interview uninformed civilians in lieu of citing other, less loaded statistics? Can you imagine if a newspaper ran an article about the library, and interviewed people who had never been to the library about how many books the library had? “I don’t know, there’s potential to be a lot of books at the library, but I’ve never been there.” “None of my friends have ever seen any books at the library, so I don’t think they’re a big deal.”
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think the Clery Report always is accessible. The biggest problem with its accessibility is that many young people don’t even know that it exists, nor do they know what it’s called. I, personally, didn’t know about the Clery Act until I started doing anti-rape activism. Maybe I just ignored the emails that I got about it, I don’t know. Regardless, I completely understand that it’s not necessarily intuitive.
Still, the editor of the State News did, in fact, know that the Clery Report exists. She knows what it’s called. She still thinks it’s impossible to expect her to access it.
Okay, let’s assume that this paid, professional journalist accidentally deleted the email she received which contained the Clery Report. Let’s just imagine that. Maybe she’s right: maybe, if she’s fact-checking an article about sexual assault on campus, it is impossible to research any official statistics. Let’s test that.
Google search: “msu clery act”
Result 1: “CLERY CRIME LOG: MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY POLICE”
Result 2: “MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY ANNUAL SECURITY & FIRE SAFETY REPORT 2011”
Msu.edu search: “clery act”
Returns one result: “Campus Safety and Security Information (Annual Report)”
Okay, well, fine. Let me continue to give her the benefit of the doubt. What if neither the reporter nor the editor could remember the name of the report?
Msu.edu search: “sexual assault on campus”
Result 2: “Clery Crime Report”
Google search: “msu sexual assault”
This search returned no Clery results on the first page. But adjusting the terms a little fares better.
Google search: “michigan state university sexual assault statistics”
Result 1: MSU libraries guide to researching crime statistics for criminal justice majors
Result 3: MSU Clery Crime Report
Being a journalist is so hard. But being a lazy rape apologist is really, really, easy.