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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Letter to the Editor: Anonymity not an excuse

Published: October 20, 2006
Section: Opinions

Dear Editor,

In the 10/16 issue of The Hoot, both the opinion and news sections managed to egregiously violate journalistic ethics in order to provide an outlet for personal insults. First, in the article “Free Theatre Cooperative denied charter” by David Pepose, a student was quoted anonymously as saying, “Free Play casts themselves as the saviors of theatre, when in reality it's just a purely egotistical and selfish gesture. I believe this is just some people just padding their resume, trying to take advantage of the Brandeis system.” The fact that a student was granted anonymity merely to insult the creators of the FPTC (which I have no affiliation with) is abhorrent. Standard journalistic ethics support the decision to grant anonymity if harm may befall the source if their identity is revealed or future sources may be dissuaded from providing information out of fear of castigation or retaliation. In this case, I highly doubt that there was any credible evidence that members of the FPTC were likely to physically harm or take revenge against this person, yet there is every reason to believe they would take offense to the statement. Especially considering the quote did not provide any new information (the only reason for anonymous sourcing) and was merely opinion, the anonymity served solely to allow a student to slander the FPTC publicly not typically the goal of news stories.

Second, the opinion article “From the minds that brought you Disco Tent” was published anonymously and contained a statement attacking Alwina Bennett as “out of touch with student wants.” Now I respect the right of the author to feel this way about how the administration has handled the Brandeis social life. However, I do not believe that he or she has the right to do so anonymously. In this case, it may be argued that the author was afraid of punishment by the administration for creating the Disco Tent. However, when the event was being planned invitations were sent out via Facebook that gratuitously identified the creators, and any administrator could easily have found information about the party organizers. Therefore, I am led to believe that the author of this opinion piece merely hid behind the guise of anonymity out of a passive-aggressive fear of being engaged in a legitimate debate with the Brandeis administration. Even in the case that I am mistaken and the author had a legitimate reason to remain anonymous, The Hoot should provide the readers with a note explaining why anonymity was granted in this instance, as has become commonplace in mainstream newspapers and magazines in the wake of the Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass episodes.

The Hoots editors and reporters should seriously consider any decisions to grant anonymity, and only grant it in the most extenuating circumstances. I hope the editors and reporters are as ashamed of their publication of these anonymous attacks as I am, and will, at the very least, provide their readership with an explanation of why they were allowed.

Matt Rogers 08