POLITICO Screws Up on Campus Hearings

Most parents, college graduates, or even legislators could be excused for lacking a detailed sense of the state of affairs on college campuses today, since higher education policy issues rarely emerge in the mainstream media. This pattern makes the one-sided coverage in the one newspaper–the New York Times–that regularly covers higher-ed issues especially objectionable.

A recent, lengthy item from POLITICO, a publication that until recently has paid scant attention to higher-ed questions, has done little to improve the situation. Here’s how POLITICO’s Caitlin Emma opens her article: “The Obama administration is more aggressive than predecessors in handling campus-based sexual violence, but advocates say the Education Department still isn’t going far enough on several basic fronts.”

It’s quite true that the current OCR has been “more aggressive than predecessors” in seeking to weaken the due process protection of students accused of sexual assault. But surely Emma can’t suggest–and without supplying any evidence to substantiate her insinuation–that diminishing due process protections translates into enhanced aggressiveness in handling “sexual violence.”

Like most reporters who have covered this general issue, Emma doesn’t describe the actual campus procedures about which the “advocates” have complained. She went out of her way to downplay the OCR’s agenda. She described the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter as merely “stressing that schools must eliminate sexual violence, prevent its recurrence and address its effects. They must take immediate action, protect the complainant, provide a grievance procedure for students and take a number of other actions.” No mention of the lower burden of proof, or the mandate for double jeopardy through allowing accusers to appeal, or the OCR’s discouragement of allowing an accused student to cross-examine his accuser. These highly controversial provisions are, instead, itemized as “a number of other actions.” And since most POLITICO readers don’t come from the higher-ed world, it’s highly unlikely that they would have recognized Emma’s misrepresentation.

As for the second part of Emma’s opening, it’s quite true that “advocates” have demanded even more aggressive anti-due process activism from OCR. In Emma’s portrayal, the ideological spectrum on campus matters ranges only from OCR to these “advocates.” Even Inside Higher Ed‘s Allie Grasgreen, who generally serves as little more than a stenographer for the OCR and anti-due process campus “activists,” normally includes a token quote from FIRE (albeit coupled with negative framing) in her articles.

Yet in 1500 words, Emma couldn’t find room to quote one civil libertarian, or defense attorney, or falsely accused student, or even one current university general counsel. Instead, POLITICO readers hear from the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education; an “advocate” who’s filed a Title IX complaint against UConn; the vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center (“we’d still like to see [OCR] go further”); an AUAW lobbyist; a state Title IX coordinator; senior director of advocacy at the Women’s Sports Foundation; and attorney Brett Sokolow, who has dismissed FIRE’s concern with due process and civil liberties with the claim that “all FIRE has done is to demonstrate that it could stand up for the rights of rapists everywhere.”

Balanced reporting, POLITICO-style.


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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