It was not very long ago I wrote an opinion column demanding for Greek Life, in all of its debauchery, to be eliminated from the face of San Diego State. This sentiment came after a sensational amount of media attention on the sexual assault problem on college campuses across the nation. It was in a month of media attention that the terms “sexual assault” and “fraternity” became symbiotic, and Greek Life became the target of a lot of anger.
They say hindsight is 20/20, and while my stance hasn’t changed, I’m willing to be sympathetic to the very community I was willing to rip to shreds. While it can still be argued sexual assault culture on college campuses are greatly aggravated by Greek Life, the discrepancies in the media reporting regarding this sensitive topic cannot be denied.
The disproportionate and sensationalist take that much of the media has taken on the vogue topic of sexual assault on college campuses, has raised ethical questions about media coverage of the topic in general. The debacle that was Rolling Stone’s story on sexual assault at University of Virginia fraternities raised a question of whether it was ethical to jettison one’s journalistic integrity to bring awareness to the sexual assault culture on college campuses.
The lack of ethics in a field that demands credibility and objectivity, especially when it comes to covering sexual assault, not only delegitimizes the movement to end sexual assault, but destroys the credibility of reports on sexual assault and thereby, sexual assault victim testimonies.
Through a month of relentless reporting on the sexual assault issue SDSU, it became clear these small and minute errors would have larger detrimental effects, both on Greek Life and sexual assault victims.
The sad reality of the lack of ethics in reporting is that it comes from reputable news organizations that have a stronghold within San Diego. It was NBC San Diego, in its article about the arrest of Francisco Sousa (who has since been acquitted of sexual assault charges) which lined a major discrepancy which falsely stated the sexual assault took place specifically at the Theta Chi fraternity house, as reported by campus officials. Although the updated version, published on the day after publishing, corrected the mistake, the report had done its damage. As consumers of the media, we were soon conditioned to associate Greek life with sexual assault. This misreport on behalf of SDSU’s campus crime alert was pervasive throughout media outlets.
When news organizations report on sensitive topics, such as sexual assault, it’s crucial to recall the ethics of transparency and accountability. As seen with the poor reporting involved with the Rolling Stone story, unethical journalism doesn’t just hurt news organizations, but it hurts those who have banded together under signs and protests to fight for sexual assault victims whose cries for justice have been ignored. There is no excuse this kind of activity.
Unethical journalism is destructive to the victims of sexual assault, to the Greeks who are largely lumped with the few bad apples within the organizations and the social justice movement to stop sex crimes against women. For every false unethical sensational grab at the topic, there exists a public who seeks to delegitimize the crime of sexual assault and therefore, the cries of the victim.
False and inaccurate reporting has dire consequences that equate the power of words in modern society. What is written and projected into society has power. To appropriately quote a “Spiderman” cliche I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing: “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Journalism is about truth, it’s about stories and it’s about objectivity. The moment we let go of our ethics in both producing news and consuming news, is the moment we damn ourselves to a life of ignorance. For journalists, it’s of essence to pursue ethics in a field where to becomes too easy to compromise integrity for exposure being the first to report.