Pubdate: Wed, 08 Sep 2003
Source: Columbia Daily Spectator (NY Edu)
Copyright: 2003 Spectator Publishing Company
Author: Merlin Chowkwanyun


To the Editor:

I just read the Sept. 4 article, "CC Senior Arrested for Marijuana
Possession," in which the Spectator reports that a Columbia senior was
arrested over the summer, allegedly for possession of six pounds of
marijuana in his Broadway dorm room. Given the stress the student and his
family likely are going through right now, was it necessary to identify this
student by name, especially given how small the undergraduate population
here is?

Legal proceedings have only begun, and not all the facts about the case have
come to light. The Spectator's only cited source for the allegations is a
police report from the NYPD, an organization known to take factual liberties
in its paperwork that later don't hold up in court. Still, even though these
drug charges have not yet been proven and substantiated, many readers will
now equate this student's name with them anyway. The article will thus
inevitably stigmatize and embarrass this student and will likely cause some
smug readers to snicker at his misfortune. This seems to be the only purpose
of this sensationalistic tabloid article. Such reactions will, of course, be
hypocritical ones, for it is not exactly a secret that on this campus,
consumption of marijuana, other "illegal" drugs, and alcohol (by the
underaged) takes place with regularity and in abundance.

The Spectator itself even made light of underage alcohol intake in the
article, "Not as Think as You Drunk I am," which appeared in the 2003
orientation issue targeted at freshmen, most of whom are under 21. For
freshmen, the Spectator listed local bars, presumably so they will know
where they can drink alcohol, an activity that, done in excess, causes more
long-term damage to one's health than the product this student allegedly

Had the Spectator done some real reporting, perhaps it could have answered
some questions that might have actually served a more substantive purpose.
Did the student's alleged conduct pose serious danger to those around him or
the greater campus? How did police come to get involved? Who tipped off the
police, if anyone? Does this signal many NYPD drug busts on campus to come?
Do the (many, many, many) students who partake in drug or alcohol-related
activity need to start watching out? The Spectator had two weeks to answer
these questions with standard investigative reporting, and it might also
have verified (or not) the accuracy of the police report's findings.
Instead, it seems to have given needless naming of names priority and
offered little else.

Merlin Chowkwanyun, CC '05
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