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April 25, 2016

Harvard Law Record Abandons the First of the Five W’s of Journalism

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The Harvard Law Record explains why it protected the identity of Husam El-Qoulaq, who hurled an anti-Semitic insult at Tzipi Livni, former Foreign Minister of Israel and current member of the Knesset. Livni appeared as a guest at the school earlier this month when El-Qoulaq insulted her.(Screenshot.)

Journalists are supposed to find out what happened and tell their readers what they have learned. Historically, there have been five questions that reporters are expected to answer, or at least try to answer, when writing about public events. The questions are:

1. Who?
2. What?
3. When?
4. Where?
5. Why?

Apparently, the student journalists at The Harvard Law Record did not get the memo.

When Husam El-Qoulaq, a student at Harvard Law School insulted Tzipi Livni, former Israeli Foreign Minister and current member of the Israeli Knesset, at a public event on Thursday April 14, 2016, (he called her “smelly”), the newspaper initially concealed the El-Qoulaq’s identity.

When, on April 18, 2016, Jewish students who attended the event condemned the statement as antisemitic in a letter to The Record, they did El-Qoulaq the undeserved and unwarranted courtesy of withholding his name from their complaint.

This is their right, but The Record to assist in the effort to protect Husam El-Qoulaq’s identity is simply disgraceful and runs counter to the demands of journalism. It’s a betrayal of the publication's loyalty to the reader.

It’s a decision that makes a mockery of The Harvard Law Record’s credibility as a journalistic enterprise. Rather than do their job and inform their readers who said what to whom, the staffers at the newspaper withheld this information from their readers. And when students identified El-Qoulaq in the comments section of the article, they deleted these comments. (Eventually, Noah Pollak confirmed El-Qoulaq’s identity and posted it on Twitter.)

The Record’s effort to conceal El-Qoulaq’s identity is disgraceful.

El-Qoulaq offered his antisemitic insult in front of dozens of students at a public event, which was being videotaped. Even more bizarrely, Harvard Law School deleted the section of the video that recorded Husam El-Qoulaq insulting Livni.

One of El-Qoulaq’s fellow students even pressured journalists not to use El-Qoulaq’s name in their articles about the antisemitic insult, The Washington Free Beacon reported. And the school itself said it could not reveal El-Qoulaq's identity because of "federal privacy laws."

It gets even weirder. The Record even allowed El-Qoulaq to issue an anonymous apology for insulting Livni. But as The Washington Free Beacon concisely stated, “A public apology typically involves someone identifying themselves by name.”

Eventually, The Harvard Law Record did the right thing and published El-Qoulaq’s name when a group of Jewish students at the institution came to his defense, stating that he is a victim of “a vicious smear campaign.”

But when The Record did the right thing, it did so not because it was fulfilling its obligation to inform its readers about who did, or said, what. It did the right thing because El-Qoulaq’s name had been broadcast elsewhere in the Internet and because El-Qoulaq had given the paper permission. But no permission was necessary, for El-Qoulap made his comment at a public event. This is basic journalism.

Why did the paper withhold El-Qoulaq’s name from the story about his antisemitic insult directed at Tzipi Livni? To promote “respectful discourse” and “recognition of the fact that Husam is a member of this community.”

Apparently, holding people accountable for their public statements is not part of the Harvard Law School’s ethos. How else can we explain the efforts of both administrators and student journalists at the school to protect El-Qoulaq’s identity?

Annual Tuition at Harvard Law School is almost $60,000.

That’s a lot of money, but it still does not enough to protect students who attend the school from scrutiny and criticism, as The Record’s staff seems to believe.

Posted by dvz at April 25, 2016 05:18 PM

Comments

Anyone know if this Hasam fellow is on scholarship or does he pay the full $60,000?

Posted by: Rick at April 27, 2016 07:30 PM

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