Tainted Love: The New York Times doesn’t get Vanderbilt

nyt george jonesThe New York Times has been flirting with Nashville for years, joining the charge of northern and coastal publications eager to tag Music City as America’s newly discovered “It City” with multiple travel-section features and other glowing profiles. They even utilized Vanderbilt basketball player Joe Duffy as a sports columnist during Duffy’s senior year.

All of this praise and proclamation certainly drew Nashville’s attention. A sudden object of affection rightly wants to know that its new, putative suitor’s interest is real, though, and a period of trouble or difficulty can provide a means of testing the authenticity of that interest. If the suitor’s interest is genuine, it will respond in a way that demonstrates true understanding or, at the very least, in a way that seeks to gain that understanding, so as best to further the relationship. If it responds by turning to cliches and shallow “conventional wisdom,” though, it suggests the interest was only ever skin-deep.

I’m not suggesting that the New York Times owes Nashville, or Vanderbilt University, any special degree of care or deference. That’s especially so where, as here, the issue is a rape allegation, and one that describes a single victim with multiple alleged perpetrators at that. (To say that rape is a topic beyond the scope of this website a) is true; b) is not to signal that it is a topic that people should not discuss; and c) is not to say that the integrity of a sports team as such is the more important issue here.)

I am suggesting that the New York Times owes Nashville and Vanderbilt University a duty of ordinary journalistic practices, which include researching stated assumptions instead of treating general stereotypes as established fact applicable to the matter at hand. I also am suggesting that the New York Times did not meet that standard in an article about Vanderbilt University’s football program it published today. (HT: Johnny Too Bad.)

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