When Paul Johnson was asked to be the Daily’s first-ever public editor this fall, he was charged with “helping the Daily improve accuracy, fairness and the relationship between the newspaper and its readers,” as the news story about his appointment explained (Daily appoints paper’s first public editor, 10/02/2007). Unfortunately, this week he failed to achieve this goal, apparently relying on a quick Google search for the content of his column Tuesday (To join or not to join?, 03/18/2008). By failing to offer accurate facts, counter-claims and balanced rhetoric in his article, Johnson perpetuated an uninformed and prejudiced view of the Order of Angell and its past. This faulty journalism continues to misinform students today and forces us to be defensive.
First of all, there were blatant factual errors in his reporting. While the group did have all-male status for decades alongside the all-female society Adara – which together formed the Tower Society – the group was integrated with minorities in the 1930s and was the University’s first true diverse nonathletic organization. The “raid” in 2000 that Johnson mentioned never proved that “several Indian artifacts” were being used. Instead this was an allegation propagated by those who broke in. Moreover, the organization voluntarily left the space in the Union; it was not forced out or, to use Johnson’s unnecessarily colorful language, “booted.”
Additional insinuations, like the need for Order members to “clean up their act,” are misleading and further distort the organizational development that has transpired for over of a century. While Johnson chooses inflammatory quotes from current Daily staff of the “many” concerns over controversy and secrecy, he chooses not to back these claims up. Not only was current Editor in Chief Andrew Grossman’s “invitation” mischaracterized, but Johnson didn’t quote former Daily Editor in Chief Donn Fresard who joined the group or any current Order members in order to present their viewpoints or clarify Johnson’s facts. The negative and one-sided slant by Johnson demonstrates either sloppy reporting or his distinct bias – and either is a clear failure of his role. Johnson also made a feeble attempt to fully disclose his membership in Cornell’s Quill and Dagger Society. He slyly referred to his organization as “semi-secret” and comprised of “student leaders,” but choose more loaded language about the Order of Angell, rather than citing its 100-year public mission to improve the University. He skipped over the fact that our group had public membership for 85 percent of its history (as Order of Angell does today), and boasts how his own society “doesn’t have the same controversial past.” Yet doing a quick search on Quill and Dagger brings a plethora of potential transgressions, including elite tower space, minority membership discrimination, administration stacking and much more. But I digress.
While Johnson disparages the Order’s past with the phrase “very little of it good,” the public record shows that the organization played a consistently positive role at the University over its century-long existence.
Nowhere in his article did Johnson refer to how the organization conceived and raised money for the Michigan Union, fought for integration on campus in the 1950’s or any of its many present-day movements. We invite dialogue with anyone interested in learning more. Rather than promote an old, tired agenda, perhaps it’s time to start listening to each other first. For a campus that strives for high academic rigor and critical thinking, it’s disappointing that so little of it has been applied to this debate.
Order of Angell is not asking the Daily or its public editor to ignore this group’s past, but the least it can do is provide a balanced description of the organization’s affairs the next time it attempts to characterize the group. Fair and accurate reporting should be the least that we – or anyone else in the campus community – should need to ask of our campus newspaper.
Sarah Banco is an LSA senior and a member of Order of Angell. She is writing on behalf of the group’s 2008 class.