Since last week, more than 650 people have signed an online petition condemning The Harvard Crimson for contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for comment in their coverage of the student-led immigration advocacy group Act on a Dream’s protest calling for the abolition of the government agency.
The petition states, “In this political climate, a request for comment is virtually the same as tipping them off, regardless of how they are contacted.”
Student representatives from Act on a Dream raised concerns that contacting ICE could shine a spotlight on the undocumented student population at Harvard, putting them at risk of being deported, according to the Crimson’s coverage of the controversy.
Because of the belief the Crimson “tipped them off,” Act on a Dream and Divest Harvard have demanded an apology from the Crimson.
We believe an apology is not necessary.
People are justified in criticizing the actions of the agency, and wanting it to be held accountable.
ICE has rightfully come under fire for multiple human rights abuses. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, border patrol agent tactics have violated protections against unlawful search and seizures, due process, and discrimination of the Title X-protected classes of race, ethnicity, and nationality.
At the same time, disagreement is not a justification for censorship.
As reporters, whether we’re student journalists at small state universities such as ours, or well-connected Ivy League students at Harvard, we have an obligation to our readers to report every side of the story, no matter what our personal beliefs may be.
By requesting a statement from ICE, the Crimson was neither defending them nor agreeing with their perspectives – they were simply acknowledging them.
The ethics journalists swear to uphold are not just talk – they make up the foundation of our discipline.
Reporting that purposefully omits the voices people disagree with – regardless of how repugnant they may be – is not journalism. It’s propaganda.
The age of increased political correctness may have ushered in a commendable heightened awareness of social justice issues, but we need to be cautious about crossing the line between criticism and dogmatism.
This editorial is not about defending ICE – rather, it’s about defending against chipping away at the First Amendment, an essential pillar of American democracy and the lifeblood of every newspaper.
It’s a fight against a misguided – and ultimately, dangerous – trend of intellectual censorship.
Where the three branches of government may be corrupt, the fourth estate – the press – will always aim to keep checks on their actions. But we cannot do so without the perspectives of those with whom we may not agree.
That said, we are not saying confronting those we disagree with should mean risking the safety of our journalists – a potentially legitimate criticism of reporting on such contentious, complicated topics.
Ultimately, the safety we seek for vulnerable populations, such as undocumented immigrants and marginalized racial minorities, is contingent on obtaining as much information as possible, including directly from the perspective of bodies such as ICE.
Not only is it our duty to seek the whole and complete truth, but we must also be conscientious and cognizant of the ways we reach out for comment and the nuance that may exist.
Fortunately, in Harvard’s case, presumably none of its reporters needed to concern themselves with the possibility that they might be deported if they made contact with ICE.
As reporters, we have a duty to uphold the First Amendment. But likewise, publications also have a responsibility to their reporters to ensure their safety and protection.
Newspapers must be vigilant and use discretion. Even though we must put aside personal bias and use objectivity in our coverage, we must also be aware this discretion will not always necessarily be extended back to us.