Harvard’s Newspaper Defends Contacting ICE for Comments in the Face of Angry Student Groups

November 13, 2019 Updated: November 13, 2019

Despite being under heavy fire from several student groups, The Crimson, Harvard University’s student newspaper, continues to defend its standard journalistic practices, refusing to apologize for asking federal immigration officials for comments on coverage of activity at the school.

According to The Crimson, the student-run publication came under fire after they reached out to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) this September for comment on an on-campus student rally calling for the agency’s dismantlement. The Crimson’s coverage, which came out the day after the rally, notes that ICE did not respond to the request for comment.

In the following weeks, The Crimson has been repeatedly attacked by several student organizations at the school, particularly the immigration advocacy group Act on a Dream that organized the September anti-ICE rally. “In this political climate, a request for comment is virtually the same as tipping [ICE] off, regardless of how they are contacted,” reads an online petition started by Act on a Dream, denouncing the newspaper’s decision. “The Crimson…must reexamine and interrogate policies that place students under threat.”

The latest criticism came from Harvard’s undergraduate student government, which voted over the weekend to pass a statement in support of Act on a Dream, whose members want The Crimson’s editors to apologize.

“It is necessary for the Undergraduate Council to acknowledge the concerns raised by numerous groups and students on campus over the past few weeks and to recognize the validity of their expressed fear and feelings of unsafety,” reads the statement, which was posted to the student government’s Facebook page.

In response, the newspaper’s president, Kristine Guillaume, wrote in an e-mailed statement after the vote that they won’t sacrifice the basic values of journalism just because some students want the view from only one side to be read.

“Fundamental journalistic values obligate The Crimson to allow all subjects of a story a chance to comment,” Guillaume wrote. “This policy demonstrates a commitment to ensuring that the individuals and institutions we write about have an opportunity to respond to criticisms in order to ensure a fair and unbiased story.”

“We welcome feedback from our readers and from those we cover. In this case, we met with representatives of Act on a Dream to hear their concerns and explain our approach,” she added.

Meanwhile, Act on a Dream, according to The Crimson, have instructed their members not to speak to the newspaper unless it “changes its policies.”

In its “Note to Readers,” The Crimson’s editors call for reporters to “contact any person or organization relevant to a story to seek that entity’s comment” a “core tenet that defines America’s free and independent press.”

“A world where news outlets categorically refuse to contact certain kinds of sources—a world where news outlets let third-party groups dictate the terms of their coverage — is a less informed, less accurate, and ultimately less democratic world,” The Crimson said.

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