More than 650 people have signed onto an online petition condemning The Harvard Crimson’s coverage of a protest demanding the abolition of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The petition — started by student-led immigration advocacy group Act on a Dream earlier this month — criticizes The Crimson for requesting comment from an ICE spokesperson for its Sept. 13 article, “Harvard Affiliates Rally for Abolish ICE Movement.” The article covers a Sept. 12 protest hosted by Act on a Dream and quotes several students’ criticisms of ICE, including calls for its dissolution. The article notes that ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“In this political climate, a request for comment is virtually the same as tipping [ICE] off, regardless of how they are contacted,” the petition reads. “The Crimson, as a student-run publication, has a responsibility to prioritize the safety of the student body they are reporting on — they must reexamine and interrogate policies that place students under threat.”
Crimson President Kristine E. Guillaume ’20 wrote in an emailed statement that The Crimson upholds “fundamental journalistic values” that “obligate” it to allow individuals and institutions it reports on to have a chance to comment.
“This policy demonstrates a commitment to ensuring that the individuals and institutions we write about have an opportunity to respond to criticisms in order to ensure a fair and unbiased story,” Guillaume wrote.
The Crimson reached out to an ICE spokesperson after the protest’s conclusion and did not provide names, immigration statuses, or extended quotes of those who criticized the government agency, according to Guillaume.
The petition, which Act on a Dream started a month after the article’s publication, demands that The Crimson change its policies on requesting comment, apologize for “the harm they inflicted” on undocumented students, and declare a commitment to protecting undocumented students on campus.
Ten other campus organizations have also signed onto the petition.
Prior to the petition’s posting, Crimson Managing Editor Angela N. Fu ’20 and Guillaume met with Act on a Dream leaders to answer their questions and listen to their concerns, Guillaume wrote.
“We welcome feedback from our readers and from those we cover. In this case, we met with representatives of Act on a Dream to hear their concerns and explain our approach,” Guillaume wrote. “For this story and all others, The Crimson strives to adhere to the highest standards of journalistic ethics and integrity.”
Act on a Dream did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The group tweeted Saturday calling for individuals and organizations to decline interview requests from The Crimson until the publication changes its policies regarding requests for comment. The Harvard College Democrats and Harvard-Radcliffe RAZA tweeted similar statements.
Seven of the organizations that signed the petition also declined to comment for this story.
Marion Davis, director of communications for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said she understands the perspectives of both The Crimson and Act on a Dream.
“I know the Crimson acted on a desire for fairness, but I have learned [through] experience that getting both sides isn't always what is fair, especially when one side has already made its views well known through the megaphones of government,” Davis wrote.
At the same time, several journalism organizations said that The Crimson’s decision to request comment from ICE was consistent with widely accepted journalistic practices and did not put any protesters in danger.
Society of Professional Journalists President Patricia Gallagher Newberry said it is “wholly appropriate” that The Crimson contacted ICE to respond to criticisms of the agency.
“You’re not calling ICE to call out an individual person who might be in our country without the documentation required by ICE. You're simply asking for it to respond in a holistic way to the Abolish ICE Movement,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher said she is “sympathetic” to Act on a Dream’s concern regarding The Crimson’s coverage, but does not see in this particular case how an individual person could be harmed by a request for a “general comment.”
Diana Mitsu Klos, director of engagement at the Student Press Law Center, said it was The Crimson’s “journalistic duty” to contact ICE because of the agency’s central role in the protest.
“To not reach out to ICE would abrogate the role of journalists as watchdogs on government,” she said. “There appeared to be nothing in The Crimson’s news story that points out or [identifies] without consent either undocumented immigrants or Deferred Action [for] Childhood Arrival students.”
“It’s straightforward coverage of a rally and ICE was contacted after the rally,” she added.
—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.