Harvard Crimson, university's student newspaper, defends contacting ICE for comment

The Crimson's editors said the paper follows a "commonly accepted set of journalistic standards" similar to professional news organizations.
Image: A sculler rows on the Charles River past the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass., on June 30, 2015.
The Charles River and the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Mass.Victor J. Blue / Bloomberg via Getty Images ile

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By Kalhan Rosenblatt

The Harvard Crimson, the university's student newspaper, is defending itself for asking U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for comment about a campus protest against the agency, despite a student petition attacking the paper for contacting ICE.

In an editors' note published Tuesday, the paper said it was following a common journalistic practice of allowing any individual or organization named in an article a chance to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

At the Sept. 12 rally, Act on a Dream, a Harvard-based student immigration advocacy group, called for ICE to be abolished. The Crimson, which covered the protest, later reached out to ICE for comment in its coverage of the protest.

Act on a Dream and several other student organizations at the school then slammed the paper's decision, saying it should not have contacted ICE because of "a long history of surveilling and retaliating against those who speak out against them," the group wrote in a petition to get the paper to no longer contact ICE for comment.

"This was the wrong call. We are extremely disappointed in the cultural insensitivity displayed by The Crimson’s policy to reach out to ICE," the petition, which has more than 650 signatures, reads.

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In an email, Act on a Dream directed NBC News to the statement used on its petition, adding that the Crimson, "has an obligation, as a student news publication, to consider the safety of the students they are reporting on. As our fellow peers, they have displayed a grave insensitivity in the handling of reporting on undocumented individuals."

"There was no need for them to elevate a student protest to the level of national importance that required a direct response from the government agency, especially considering the direct danger associated with their actions," the email, signed by the Act on a Dream board, said. "We are stating that journalistic ethics should require them to prioritize the safety of their sources and report with sensitivity."

Crimson President Kristine E. Guillaume directed NBC News to the paper's note to readers when reached for comment.

The note to readers, published on Tuesday by Guillaume and Crimson Managing Editor Angela N. Fu, defended the decision to reach out to ICE, saying the paper follows a "commonly accepted set of journalistic standards, similar to those followed by professional news organizations big and small."

"Foremost among those standards is the belief that every party named in a story has a right to comment or contest criticism leveled against them," the editors' note states.

The editors' note said that the Crimson contacted ICE after the rally had ended and did not give ICE advance notice of the protest or provide any names or immigration statuses of people at the protest.

The Crimson stated that it met with Act on a Dream to address concerns expressed on social media and to explain common journalistic practice. A week later, the note to readers states, the petition calling for the Crimson to change its policies was published.

In the editors' note, the Crimson stated that it had conferred with the Student Press Law Center and the Society of Professional Journalists, who confirmed that the Crimson had followed journalistic ethical standards by reaching out to ICE.

The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics states that journalists should "diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing."

"We understand that some readers may disagree with The Crimson’s policies," the editorial states. "But our mission is facts, truth, narrative, and understanding. In our view, consistent application of a commonly accepted set of journalistic standards is the best way to fairly report on the campus in a sensitive and thorough manner."