Campus Media and the ASSU

In the past month, the ASSU has endured two of the biggest scandals in its recent history – namely, the resignation of ASSU Vice President Jay de la Torre due to Honor Code violations and allegations of financial misconduct by the Avula/Jones ASSU Executive in 2008. Both stories leave questions unanswered and have rocked the foundations of trust in our elected representatives.

In light of these extraordinary and disappointing events with *enormous *implications, a fair question to ask is “What has T**he Stanford Daily published to further develop and investigate these stories?” The answer: little to nothing. Coverage by our only daily paper has seemed lacking, if not outright missing.

Since the Vice President de la Torre’s announcement broke on November 13th, the Daily has written seven sentences to introduce de la Torre’s resignation letter, published a short, unsolicited opinions piece, and briefly mentioned the incident in their weekly ASSU Senate wrap-up. Given the magnitude of the situation – that one of our campus’s most trusted leaders ran for office in full knowledge of his transgressions and the likely one quarter suspension that would entail – one might think the issue would warrant a follow-up piece or two.

These concerns are echoed succinctly by Daily columnist and Review staff writer Jordan Carr, as he states in a Daily column: “The* Daily* has unequivocally shirked its responsibility. There has been no comment from the Daily Editorial Board and no reporting on the topic. The second highest official in student government resigned and the campus paper has nothing to say. It’s cowardly and embarrassing; the biggest campus story of the year has been swept under the rug.”

Another example of scanty coverage is exemplified by the way in which the Daily has yet to publish a news piece covering the Review’s investigation into Executive financial misconduct. On November 6th, the Review released an in-depth investigative piece on the nearly $13,000 in food and gas expenditures by the Avula/Jones administration, and published the financial records for the Stanford public. The totality of the Daily’s coverage of the matter has been one response opinion piece.

Once again, the gravity of the situation deserves mention: the Stanford student body’s highest elected officials appear to have violated the trust of the community by misusing funds through extravagant – and most likely personal – expenditures. The situation begs the question: if such a story isn’t considered news-worthy by TheStanford Daily, then what story is? As a brief glance at a recent Daily will tell you, “Suit up or dress down?” – a story which examined the dressing habits of Stanford professors – apparently deserves more coverage than misconduct by our elected officials.

Admittedly, deciding what is “news-worthy” will inevitably be subjective, yet the mention of the Avula/Jones scandal in the weekly ASSU Senate meeting summary indicates that journalists covering the ASSU appreciate the magnitude of the offences, even as they decide to not write about them.

Why has coverage of these monumental issues been lacking? Is is that the Gobaud/de la Torre slate was endorsed by the Daily? Is it that a rival organization (The Stanford Review) broke the Avula/Jones story first? Or are the ethical issues raised by these two news stories simply too hot for the Daily to handle?

What then should be the role of a campus newspaper with regard to the ASSU? One of the  only ways students can assess the progress of their elected representatives is through organizations such as the Daily and Review, which makes the role of campus media a critical component of good governance.

It is for this precise reason that coverage of student leaders requires more than a quick, weekly, summary of events; indeed, it requires asking the tough questions, taking what is said and probing one level deeper. It requires an active, not passive, philosophy of fact-checking and investigative work that quite frankly has been lacking in recent Daily coverage.

I will conclude with an open challenge to not just the Daily but all campus news outlets – the quality and depth of news coverage of the ASSU must improve. I can only hope that a culture of accountability will breed leaders with a higher regard for Stanford’s ethical and moral expectations.

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