The Arizona Desert Lamp

The Triple Scarlet Letter

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 8 October 2009

Greek Letters RedFor those who haven’t been following the breathless updates from the Wildcat (the story even has its own hashtag), here’s the reason why your author is grumbling in class without his 3:30 PM crossword:

Approximately 10,000 copies of the Daily Wildcat were stolen Thursday morning from newsstands across campus.

The Wildcat has received several tips throughout the day claiming the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity is responsible for the massive theft.

Although the Wildcat asked Phi Kappa Psi leadership whether they were responsible several times during an interview, the president and vice president of the fraternity would not deny they had stolen the newspapers.

“I’m not going to talk about this at all,” said Keith Peters, president of Phi Psi. “We’re not supposed to talk to the media.”

Phi Psi appeared in today’s Police Beat section due to a police report in which a woman said she believed she had been drugged with GHB at a Phi Psi party on Sept. 26.

Naturally, the usual caveats about presumed innocence apply; but if this is in fact a case of Keystone (ha!)-Kops-style cover-up, someone should inform the members of Phi Kappa Psi about the existence of “the Internets,” on which any number of police beats can be obtained – including those involving allegations of GHB-spiked drinks at certain house parties. If the house isn’t busted for theft, let’s at least hope that they get their ears boxed in for the crime of “wanton stupidity.”

Yet at risk of going too meta, there is a broader question here – why was the house named in the police beat in the first place?

In years past, the Wildcat – and college newspapers around the country – had no compunctions about printing the names of students who had been busted for crimes on campus. As late as 1999, the Wildcat could write something like this:

The names of people arrested are a different case altogether.

“Using suspects names is part of keeping the campus informed,” Cieslak says. “They are part of the university community so people need to know what they do. We have no reason not to use their names.”

Readers assume that people who are arrested are guilty when their names appear in Police Beat, says journalism professor Jacqueline Sharkey.

“Our whole system of justice is based on the fact that we are innocent until proven guilty,” she says.

The Daily Wildcat has a legal right to use suspects’ names, but there are ethical questions about naming people, says Sharkey, who teaches a class on media ethics in the Journalism Department.

Sharkey’s argument ultimately prevailed by by fall of 2002, when the Wildcat stopped naming suspects. This was due in no small part to the prevalence of web searches conducted on potential employees, and the consequent complaints of alumni that a MIP from sophomore year was preventing them from getting a job.

No such provision exists for Greek houses, however, as this police beat makes plain. Yet the effect is very much the same. In this instance, a woman alleges that her drink was spiked. Yet even if these charges turn out to be spurious, Phi Kappa Psi will still have a reputation of being a “date rape” fraternity. There’s a feedback loop here, too – if Phi Psi gains a reputation as the “GHB house,” then the only people who will rush Phi Psi are those who have no problems with such a reputation – not exactly the greatest guys from which to choose.

This isn’t the first time that the Wildcat has ruffled Greek feathers with the police beat. From the September 30 mailbag:

Police Beat shouldn’t incorrectly attribute fraternities to reports

As the public relations chair of the Sigma Chi fraternity, obviously I am very concerned about the post in the Sept. 21 Police Beat titled “Intoxicated Cyclist Tries to Sleep it Off.” This article said one of our pledges was intoxicated and hurt. It has been proven that this was not, in fact, one of our pledges but one from another fraternity. The fraternity whose pledge it was does not concern us, nor do we want them pointed out. We would, however, appreciate if there was something you could do to counteract the article, saying the pledge in question was not with Sigma Chi. We understand it might be difficult, but knowing the fire Greek Life is under, we would appreciate all negative publicity that is false to be done away with.

Eric Chalk
pre-business sophomore

If the paper cares about damaging the reputation of students, it should also care about damaging the reputation of student organizations – there’s no more reason to print the name of a house than there is to print the name of a student. Assuming the narrative holds, Phi Psi will be more than able to wreck their reputation on their own.


3 Responses

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  1. Laura Donovan said, on 8 October 2009 at 11:11 pm

    I disagree with your last paragraph. It’s one thing to point out a particular student involved in a crime and another to write about a group. What if ASUA committed a serious crime? Wouldn’t it be necessary to mention ASUA in the newspaper report? It’s not enough to just say “a student organization” or “fraternity house” allegedly drugged a girl. I don’t really understand your logic in the last paragraph, so maybe you can explain your point a little further.

    • Evan Lisull said, on 9 October 2009 at 9:06 am

      To put what “noob” said a little more felicitiously – the key here really is “alleged.” There is, in fact, no crime so far, and it’s not clear whether the police have enough evidence to pursue the allegations and prosecute. The comments on the police beat site were rather heinous, but assuming guilt is not the correct remedy.

      As for ASUA specifically – I’m not quite sure what the law states on this, but seeing how they are public officials they should be held to a higher standard. This is more a personal belief than legal precedent, but it seems as though someone who is willing to publicly run for office and use public monies should have no issue with their face in public when the press is less flattering.

      (Although, I do think this is curious ethics quandary – suppose, say, Gabriella Ziccarelli (used only to illustrate the highest degree of absurdity) were to be charged with grand theft auto. Would the Wildcat print her name, seeing how she is an elected official?)

  2. noob said, on 8 October 2009 at 11:35 pm

    I don’t get whats not to understand Laura. Would you want your reputation ruined on the word of some random freshman by having her allegations THAT MAY OR MAY NOT BE TRUE published in the student newspaper? No? Then why would a greek or student organization?

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