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Several students distributed flyers yesterday throughout the Law School, charging that its weekly newspaper has allowed a noted campus activist to severely bias news coverage.
The notices--placed in all of the school's student mailboxes--allege that The Harvard Law Record has permitted Steven Donziger, a third-year law student and campus activist, to inappropriately write and edit articles. Donziger has been extensively involved in efforts to reform Harvard's public interest curriculum.
A column by Robert K. Niewyck, a second-year law student and regular Record writer, accompanied the notices. Niewyck's article details several instances in which Donziger, not an official member of the weekly paper, allegedly involved himself in a conflict-of-interest situation.
Among the incidents cited in the students' complaint was one in which Donziger--under the auspices of "The Record Staff"--wrote an article about a national campaign for a pro bono requirement, an effort which he himself has spearheaded.
In an interview yesterday, Donziger contested the impropriety of his actions, saying they do not represent a conflict of interest. In addition, he said the only time he writes stories for The Record, such as the one about the national pro bono effort, is when a writer assigned to the story fails to complete the article.
"I categorically reject the assumption that somebody needs to be completely removed from something to write about it objectively," Donziger said. "I will never be the sterile, automaton editor that [Niewyck] wants me to be. I care passionately about the Law School."
"To charge that there is systematic bias is more a reflection of the paranoia of conservative activists than it is the reality of The Record," Donziger added.
Niewyck said yesterday he wrote the column last weekend after several weeks of research on Donziger. He then submitted the article for publication in The Record.
But when Record Editor-in-Chief Pat Miles declined to publish the article, Niewyck said he and several other students, who co-signed the flier's cover letter, were left with no choice but to distribute the column themselves.
"I was bothered this was going on, and I thought people should know about it," Niewyck said in an interview yesterday. Donziger's writing and editing, he added, are "always done with an eye toward manufacturing an issue."
Niewyck said what most bothered him was the fact that The Record had never indicated that Donziger had contributed to the articles.
"They were trying to keep out of the paper the fact that he was putting this stuff into the paper," Niewyck said.
Miles said that a shortage of staff has prevented The Record from always having writers and editors who are unconnected with a story they report.
"We would love to have enough people so that all these stories could be written perhaps by people who did not have a particular interest in that situation, because then hopefully all suspicion of an internal bias on The Record would be alleviated," Miles said. "But we can't. I call upon the people who wrote the flier to join The Record so that we can cover more stories and provide a better forum for the Law School community."
Donziger also denied that there has been any bias in any articles he has edited, saying that those articles are always edited by several other people on The Record staff and that the editing process is inherently "unscientific."
Miles said in the past Donziger has not been put on the paper's masthead because he had been a professional journalist for the United Press International wire service for two years and did not feel he needed recognition, but added that practice will change to avoid any further appearance of partiality.
Miles said The Record, which is printed by The Crimson, will run an editorial concerning the fliers in today's issue. Donziger said he will distribute his own fliers contesting yesterday's notices throughout the Law School campus today.
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