According to LexisNexis, the past seven days have seen Harvard cited in
the headline, lead paragraph, or synopsis of 126 major newspaper
stories. Yale was in 68. Princeton, a paltry 40.
All eyes are on our ivory tower, noting everything from our
cure-finding medical research to our Nobel Laureates to our president,
foot firmly planted in his mouth. At times, the spotlight burns. It’s
not easy being simultaneously lauded for academic excellence and
derided for academic inflation, for instance. And the media coverage of
Harvard isn’t always fair and balanced, even by Fox News’ standards.
We’re the Bill Clinton of the college set: we’re powerful, and
for every positive story about our contributions to academia or
science, there’s one more stained dress. As with the coverage of the
photogenic genius-cum-trainwreck Clinton, the coverage of Harvard seems
star-struck—but when the New York Times specifically solicits
Harvard’s female students for their thoughts on marriage, maybe the
fascination has gone too far.
Surely this attention comes from many predictable sources.
Hundreds of Harvard alums work in journalism. Our academics are, in a
word, trumps. But some of the coverage derives from resentment—that
all-American love of taking down the $25 billion Goliath.
Nevertheless, Harvard’s administration keeps its ear to the
wire, reading carefully when the papers print our name. Sustained
internal and public criticism of Harvard’s social life—even the New
York Times covered it—led to the creation of Pub Nights and the hiring
of an administrator who once managed Cornell’s frats.
And University President Lawrence H. Summers’ comments on the
“intrinsic aptitude” of women in math and science led to a discourse on
an issue that should be, but often isn’t, addressed. Subsequently,
major papers (the Times, the Washington Post) and magazines (Time,
Newsweek, the Economist) followed up on the issue, publishing what
gender studies have actually shown.
Knowing we’re being watched, we defend our institution and
critique it closely; we’re doubly aware of our faults and successes.
Surely few other schools have such a lively internal debate: The
Crimson’s editorials passed around in dining halls, the few meetings
with Summers filled to capacity.
And, just to make this more meta, our internal criticism
causes headlines. When FM bit the hand that fed us in our 2003 cover
story “Should We All Just Have Gone To Yale?” Yale’s admissions office
passed out copies of FM to touring students and the Yale Daily News
covered our coverage.
Wait, was that just media on media on media? Doordropped just had a heart attack!