'Business Today' Forged Letters to Editor
Staff members of Business Today, the magazine about the corporate world sent to more than 3200 Harvard students and more than 200,000 students nationwide, falsified letters to the editor in the publication's last two issues, editors said last week.
The Princeton-based publication, run entirely by students, printed at least a half-dozen letters to the editor that were written by staff members and signed with other students' names.
Staff members said they asked the students whose names were falsely signed to the letters for their opinions on articles the magazine had printed in previous issues, and with permission, wrote the letters based on the students' responses.
Business Today editors read the texts of the letters to the students, who were their personal friends, before using their names, said junior Anuj J. Agarwal, the president of the foundation that publishes the tri-annual magazine.
But some students who supposedly wrote letters said Business Today staff members never asked them for their opinions and never read them the texts of the letters.
The editors falsified the letters because there was not enough copy to fill the publication's letters to the editor page, said sophomore Wendy Kopp, publisher and editor-in-chief. Reporters for The Daily Princetonian caught on to the forgery when they received a tip from an anonymous source, said freshman Tracy L. Friedman, who reported the story for the paper.
The forgery was "common knowledge on our staff, and I guess someone just found out somehow," Kopp said. "We weren't keeping it from anyone. I guess we hadn't thought far enough ahead at the time to keep it from anyone," she said.
Kopp said she didn't think about the potential breach of ethics that the forgery would engender.
When you get really caught up in something and it gets down to the wire and you don't have enough copy, you get carried away," she said.
"I can see now, on reflection, that [falsifying letters] is definitely not a good thing to do. That's why we have a new policy where we're not going to do this anymore," Kopp said.
But Kopp said there were reasons besides the need to fill space that led to the falsifications. "We were trying to catalyze student opinion across the country and present a variety of opinions," she said.
One of the supposed letter writers, Stanford junior Carl W. Lee, said he had talked to a friend on the Business Today staff about writing a letter, but never actually wrote one. He said he did not object when the friend told him he might use his name on a letter that was never read to him.
"I trust the person who did it. We've been friends for years," Lee said. He added that the opinions in the letters were not "off the wall," but had about "the same ideas" he might have expressed.
"I'd never seen [Business Today] before," said Stanford sophomore James P. Fox, whose name was signed to a falsified letter.
Fox said the person who called him from the publication never read him the entire letter. He said he had never read the article about which he was supposed to have written a letter.
The publication used one student's name after he had denied the magazine permission to do so, according to The Daily Princetonian. Peter Greeves, a junior at the University of Maryland, did not allow his name to be used.
Kopp said Business Today used Greeves' name only because of a "lay-out error." Kopp said that the staff has not yet decided whether to print a retraction statement. She added that Greeves said the error wasn't important to him.
But in an interview with The Princetonian, Greeves, who could not be reached for comment this week, said, "I think it's sneaky. I really disapprove of the way they did it."
"People know our magazine and whatever we try to do shouldn't be overshadowed by this one thing," said sophomore Leigh Ornstein, associate publisher of Business Today. "It wasn't done maliciously and it wasn't done to glorify our magazine," she said.
"I think all of us had some problems with [the letter writing policy], but it was the kind of case where all of us had problems and no one came together and said anything," she said.
Kopp said she herself would never allow her name to be placed on anything she didn't write, but said, "It's a matter of personal choice that I wouldn't do it. I don't work that way. If someone else does work that way, it's their choice."
Kopp said she is somewhat surprised at the extent of the reaction to the incident.
"A lot of people I've talked to honestly don't think it's that big a deal," she said. But Princetonian "reporters do seem to think it's the world's worst offense, and they've found a lot of people to support that view."