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February 5 2015

Columbia U Journos: Okay, Maybe It Was a Little Unfair to Pillory a Male Student Who Already Had Been Found Not Guilty in Rape Accusations

Charlotte Allen

It’s too little, too late, but at least it’s something.

Two writers for the Columbia Spectator, the university’s student newspaper, have conceded that the paper’s months-long, glowingly positive coverage of Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia senior who’s been lugging a mattress around campus in order to shame a male classmate she claims raped her during their freshman year, was unfairly one-sided.

No kidding. It was the Spectator, after all, that made the decision, as early as May 2014, to publish the name of the classmate whom Sulkowicz fingered, Jean-Paul Nungesser, even though a Columbia campus tribunal had earlier exonerated Nungesser, not only of sexual assault charges brought by Sulkowicz but of similar charges brought by two other Columbia women in the wake of Sulkowicz’s accusations. After his name became known around campus, Nungesser became a pariah, shunned by his fellow students.

You would have thought that being cleared of not one but three separate charges might have suggested to the Spectator’s editors that Nungesser was, just maybe, the victim of a pile-on and that he deserved to have his privacy respected. But no—the triple charges were actually one of the newspaper’s reasons for blasting Nungesser’s name all over campus:

Although these students have said that he was found “not responsible” in each case, the fact remains that three women have now accused Nungesser of sexual assault through the University’s adjudication process.

Being accused of something was as good as being found guilty, in the Spectator’s view.

But on Feb. 3, after a Daily Beast article published screenshots of texts and Facebook messages indicating that Sulkowicz and Nungesser maintained a friendly electronic relationship and socialized at campus events for several months after the alleged assault, a shamefaced, although still somewhat mealy-mouthed Daniel Garisto, former editorial-page editor for the Spectator, wrote the following in an op-ed:

Ultimately, the media does not know whether or not Nungesser is guilty, and due to serious issues with the judicial process, cannot rely on Columbia’s verdict. And while Nungesser is statistically guilty, that is not justification for the treatment he has received at the hands of the media.

Statisically guilty? I don’t know what that means—but at least Garisto acknowledged that the Spectator had indulged in “uncritical coverage” of Sulkowicz’s claims.

On Feb. 5, Caroline Williamson, in an oped for the Spectator, conceded that the newspaper and other media might have picked the wrong poster child in Sulkowicz for an anti-rape crusade:

“Until now, the media has fed upon the claims and spectacles produced by one side of the story,” Williamson wrote.

It’s nice to see the media finally coming forward to acknowledge the role it played in blackening the reputation of someone already found not guilty. Especially when that person was a fellow student who deserved at least to have his side of the story heard by his classmates.

 



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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