An Ex-Editor’s Take on Trump, Chalk and the Media

Following last week’s uproar surrounding the chalkings of apparent support for Donald Trump across campus and the ensuing protests, I was simultaneously amazed and disheartened by how things became both inside and outside our institutional walls.  Much of the coverage and conversation shifted from dialogue to vitriol and became misguided and misunderstood in the blink of an eye.

Mindless name-calling is nothing new in regards to politics (and Millennials and colleges and free speech, etc.), but the devolution of the interaction between protesters, the administration and the general populace hit an all time low with such evidenced behavior.

Specifically, I am disheartened to see a newfound antagonism between the student activists, leaders and the newspaper that has, in my time especially, strived to tell all the stories of those within its community.

Across social media, I have seen recurring messages of boycotting the Wheel. Student leaders of prominent organizations have advocated blocking and refusing to give information to reporters and have participated in what amounts to cyberbullying of Wheel staff members past and present.

Yet, as I sat last week and looked at the clusterfuck that was my personal Facebook status about the Trump chalkings, where my frustration with an issue of free speech and journalistic access had quickly descended into a chaos of racially-steeped attacks and buzzword-filled diatribe, I realized something.

When it comes to protesters, outside observers and everyone in between understanding and dealing with the media, we’re doomed from the start.

For the past two-and-a-half years, I have had the privilege of serving the Emory community as a member of The Emory Wheel. Within the Wheel, I’ve served in roles focused on Greek Life, Campus Life, top-level University administration, Student Life and, eventually, had the privilege of serving on the executive board as the Executive Digital Editor.

The stories I have told over time have been important to me as well as to those who read them because they often provided access and insight into a complete, accurate story of sides that often go unheard in mainstream society.

I’ve covered wide-ranging segments of our community, from theology students protesting the recognition of an alleged anti-gay pastor and swastikas on a historically-Jewish fraternity house to Ebola and its safety relative to campus and the traditions and histories surrounding the new member intake process of historically black and multicultural Greek organizations, with a dedication to and focus on  telling these otherwise unheard stories with accuracy and depth.

Yet just as the real world cares little for individual safety and security (see: any internet comment section ever), much of what society thinks of as so-called “journalism” in the real world cares not for disclaimers about accuracy, biases and ethics going into what it writes.

Media literacy is at an all time low, with sites ranging from college-oriented “news” like The Tab and Odyssey Online to partisan-slanted pages like Breitbart News Network or Vox increasingly serving as a primary source of information for most of the country.

Gone are the days of the importance placed on reading newspapers — national juggernauts like The Washington Post and The New York Times are no longer important to most people, let alone one’s local paper.

Because there is so much information out there on the internet, the chances of you only reading sites, views and opinions with which you agree are growing higher and higher. Instead of editorial pages filled with many ideas, we have created echo chambers with exteriors that are simultaneously extremely sensitive and impervious to penetration by outside viewpoints.

With so much of the “journalism” that people see on a daily basis spreading opinions, falsehoods and just plain ol’ differing opinions, it is no surprise that there is a healthy skepticism of the accuracy and unbiased nature of anything and everything that comes out.

Most people don’t realize the inherent slant or biases that come through outlets such as these — or that these outlets really don’t care about impartiality or context or even getting all the facts straight because of the monetary bottom line they aim to serve.

Take for example Fox Sports columnist Clay Travis. Despite having multiple degrees for which I am sure he was required to take some sort of writing class, his attempt at discussing the Trump chalk situation (in which said  repeatedly that he “murders” and “kills” the protestors with his words), his expletive-laced fumble of an opinion piece provides as much newsworthiness, context and insight as a food review of a burger joint by a vegetarian.

Yet, understandably, the protestors and other students of the University are upset at this characterization of our school and its attendees, and when taken outside of the context of what it is — a glorified sports columnist who waxes poetics about whatever he feels that he’s qualified to talk about — it’s very easy and understandable, then, to not to want to engage with anyone who wants to tell your story. In most cases, it is very easy for these ill-trained, unconcerned-with-ethics-and-impartiality outlets to miss things or mess them up.

However, there are still newspapers — newspaper being the key here — that are still fighting the good fight for truthful, far-reaching coverage of all communities, especially those that  have historically been underrepresented and stifled on its pages.

The Wheel is one of those.

It’s not perfect by any means. But much progress has been made. That progress cannot take place, however, if an open line of communication fails to exist between the storytellers and those with stories to be told. The men and women on the newspaper staff work tirelessly around the clock (literally) to report these stories and catch every bit of context and nuance that is available to them.

It is unreasonable not to want to engage with coverage and reporting in the newspaper and lambast the lack of coverage in the same breath. It is also unreasonable to parade around mistakes that are made without working with the writers and editors to learn from issues to better serve the community.

A common refrain that I have heard is that students of color are “tired of having to educate the masses” about the macro- and micro-aggressions they are faced with on a daily basis. While that is certainly true and something that I can never experience personally as someone with privilege, history tells us that progress does not rest on the backs of the ignorant. The Wheel and other newspapers are some  of the more powerful teaching tools at the disposal for those both educating and being educated.

Let the opinion pages be your lecture hall, let your powerful stories, words and insights be your lesson plan and let the world be your students.

Throughout all of this bitterness, confusion and misinformation, this week has reaffirmed three things for me: One, the role of open expression and the freedom to have civil discourse is important now more than ever; two, media literacy is terrible today and the root of  much discontent; and three, never, ever read the comments on any story.

I welcome further dialogue and discussion on Twitter @stphnfwlr or via email.

Stephen Fowler is a College senior from McDonough, Georgia

25 comments

  1. Robert Ajolotl 3 years ago

    I personally doubt that I am getting more than a cartoonish view of what went on and am eager to hear a more accurate representation of the student reaction. So for example I was happy to see that the senior vice president and dean of campus life tried to give a more balanced perspective in an Inside Higher Ed article yesterday. The problem is: it still sounds ridiculous. What am I missing?

    1. John 3 years ago

      That it IS ridiculous.

    2. Donna 3 years ago

      Not missing a thing, this is typical liberal college/university stupidity.

    3. Robert Ajolotl 3 years ago

      It seems insane — half a million people in Georgia voted for Trump. How could it be news that there are supporters nearby? I can understand protesting him and those that support him, but going to the administration? what are they supposed to do in a democratic society? I don’t get it at all.

  2. Donna 3 years ago

    The problem with the news media outlets, is most of them lie, lie, lie. Look at NBC and the Travon Martin case, where they were caught and apologized for, fixing the tape that was released to the public, trying to make it sound like the scenario was racially motivated.
    You failed to mention how MSNBC is extremely racist and has waged a very public war against whites. If you think for one second the media actually does anything good for this country, you are sadly mistaken. People have to look elsewhere to look for the truth. A story of a college campus being extremely bigoted against conservatives is very typical. The useless professors, who want Bernie Sanders to win, have brainwashed the young adults at the campuses, so it goes, the newspaper will not be a real news outlet, just a sound piece for the liberals.
    The professors want Sanders to win, not for the country,b ut for themselves. The student have realize that about 80% of their tuition goes to funding relaxing vacations, fit for multi millionaires for their useless professors. Your tuitions pays almost exclusively for their vacation retirements. Their motivation is to get the wealthy to take care of them in their old age. Not going to happen. The very rich are tying their monies up in trusts and charitable organizations. They are taking on big problems that face humanity, where all world governments have failed. These professors want this to stop and want the money in their pension funds. Let’s not forget, these college institutions, do no pay any of their fair share of taxes, it is all about the professors and thier pensions and healthcare. Unfortunately the young adults today are so dumb they don’t even see what they are actually paying for or that they are being completely used by the Liberal establishment, because guess what, you will not get free education, you will be paying a tax in the next 5-10 years that will rival your property taxes, which the public school system has already latched on to for taxing the crap out of homeowners for the millionaires pensions for the public, failed education system. Look it up. Legacy costs are what you pay for thru your tuition, Now is that fair?

  3. Banff1967 3 years ago

    “A common refrain that I have heard is that students of color are “tired of having to educate the masses” about the macro- and micro-aggressions they are faced with on a daily basis. While that is certainly true and something that I can never experience personally as someone with privilege, history tells us that progress does not rest on the backs of the ignorant.” I think the “masses” are tired of hearing silly terms like micro-aggression and having anyone that isn’t black referred to as “someone with privilege”. Hurry up and graduate so you can join the real world. In a couple of years you will never say “micro-aggression” again.

    1. Donna 3 years ago

      They don’t have to educate me or any other white people. They need to educate themselves, that is a better place to start. I was never racist, my hiring always included black people. I never care about the color of skin, I just want someone who will do a good job. The reason I did not have many black working for me, is they did not apply for positions, starting with entry level position and higher.
      After the past 5 or 6 years, I have become increasingly racist and really do not look to hire a minority due to this type of BS. I want nothing to do with whining cry babies and these so called macro and micro aggressions. They have not walked in my shoes either, I have had an extremely hard and tragic life, but I get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other and make my life better everyday.
      If someone writing a name in chalk is a cry baby offense, I want nothing to do with the weakness or the lack of fortitude it takes to get through life these minorities seem to have. Stop taking and start giving, it is a great way to go through life.

  4. maxime1793 3 years ago

    Has anyone written so much to say so little?

  5. Karen 3 years ago

    Newspapers were never meant to be babysitters. Do not go into journalism if you give credence to the stupid claims of being offended by the chalking of a candidate’s name.

  6. videmus 3 years ago

    I understood Clay Travis’s column to have been facetious. He was mocking the SJW penchant for interpreting the figurative as the literal, and for conflating the emotional with the physical — e.g. “My ideas were figuratively threatened, therefor my body is literally in danger”; “Words caused me to feel anguish, therefor they were physically harmful”.

    He did mock them pretty crassly. Was he wrong, though?

  7. Editorials Alum 3 years ago

    Make Emory Great Again

  8. Scoots McKenzie 3 years ago

    Mr. Fowler seems to have a beef with “glorified sports columnist(s)” and ” ill-trained, unconcerned-with-ethics-and-impartiality outlets.” But since Mr. Fowler has already admitted that he will not read any comments on any story, I feel free to state that Mr. Fowler thinks quite highly of himself by putting down other journalists. Perhaps it’s his long-simmering anger for never have been picked first for basketball in middle school.

    1. Stephen Fowler 3 years ago

      I’d hardly consider equating a free-reign sports column to work that real journalists do. I don’t think highly of myself, nor do I put down other journalists. I’m just providing commentary and an observation based on what I see. And I read comments, there’s just very little to gain from them. Like the basketball part of the comment.

      For what it’s worth, I was usually picked second because I was taller 😉

      1. Scoots McKenzie 3 years ago

        So, you do read the comments? Please provide us all with a list of of who you consider to be a “real journalist” and then we can have a “real discussion” about issues that matter. So, this is the “profession” you have chosen to lead you to higher ground? lol. http://www.politico.com/blogs/on-media/2016/02/les-moonves-trump-cbs-22000

  9. David Bach 3 years ago

    “…and something that I can never experience personally as someone with privilege,”

    Why did the writer feel the need to add this comment to an otherwise decently written piece?

    1. Robert Ajolotl 3 years ago

      It’s part of the collective orthodoxy of universities. You have to always say “as someone with privilege” if you are white male discussing any topic that even brushes up against race or ethnicity, and preface any defense of free speech with “I find Trump so disgusting that I can’t even say his name …, but”. Otherwise you are considered ignorant.

    2. Stephen Fowler 3 years ago

      It’s an acknowledgement that there are some things in life that, regardless of how much you can read and learn about an issue, you can never quite understand and feel yourself. Nothing more than that.

      1. Robert Ajolotl 3 years ago

        I suppose that phenomenon exists, though I wouldn’t consider it so binary. Many people have experienced different forms of discrimination that make it possible to relate, if not fully, at least to some degree. And in any case it is horrible terminology — privilege sounds like a wonderful thing to possess, but there are so many other ways to suffer in life that I’m sure many of these “privileged” people endure every day (often silently), and on the other hand anyone who lives in this country, and certainly attends an elite university, is highly privileged by any more general standard.

  10. Zeb Zobenica 3 years ago

    I’m a white guy…and a descendent of slaves. How so, you ask?

    From the dictionary: slave
    Med. Lat. sclavus < Sclavus, Slav (<the widespread enslavement of captured Slavs in the early Middle Ages). See SLAV.

    My immigrant grandparents, and their ancestors, were slavic, ethnic Serbs, who were 'enlisted' into the service of the Austro-Hungarian empire to hold the Ottoman Muslims at bay. They had no civil rights nor representation in the Austro-Hungarian Diet. They lived under martial law enforced by a military commander in an area of the Balkans called the Krajina or military frontier, a vast no-man's-land where the empires collided. They were called 'granicari', loosely translated as 'military frontiersmen'. In exchange for their shock-troop services, they were allowed to practice their religion and cultural traditions. They could fight and die for the emperor…but they couldn't vote.

    Like the majority of caucasian Americans, they came to the United States decades after the Civil War. They were the unwanted and unwashed of Europe, willing to risk life and limb to seek a better life. In the early years of the 20th century, they toiled side-by-side with black Americans in the factories, mines, packing houses and railroads trading their sweat for subsistence wages. They shared a legacy of human social deprivation.

    How is it then that contemporary blacks, passing a white person on the street, link that stranger to slave ownership and see a person-of-privilege? The institution of human slavery is old and color blind. It pre-dates Christianity. It was commonly practiced among all of the peoples of the world. It was through the initiative of Christian denominations in England and the United States, fighting to reconcile the moral imperatives of individual human worth and equality before the law, that slavery was rolled back and those ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence and political reality slowly began to come into alignment. Despite their efforts, white Christians still find themselves held in contempt. Paradoxically, Islam continues to embrace slavery, yet black conversions to Islam continue to rise.

    Victor Davis Hanson writes, "Somehow in the 1980s we redefined in our schools colonialism, slavery, and imperialism as exclusively European, rather than merely human pathologies — as if the Arab world did not match or trump the European slave trade, as if the Ottomans had no empire before the Europeans in the Mediterranean, as if Persians, Japanese, and Chinese had not sought to conquer, enslave, and exploit their weaker neighbors."

    In 2004, I was asked to submit an article to the local newspaper for an Independence Day issue:

    "Lieutenant, ah nigras is heppy", he said, all three hundred pounds of him under his Smokey hat. It was forty years ago this week and we were in his Mississippi Highway Patrol vehicle leading a gray school bus full of sailors to a search area platted by the FBI in rural Neshoba county.

    On June 22, 1964, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Cheney, a young black, were reported missing. They were civil rights activists engaged in voter registration drives in the deep south. Those of us stationed at McCain Field Naval Air Station, north of Meridian, were directed to assist in the search. The movie "Mississippi Burning" is Hollywood's account of those events.

    As we drove to our map grid, the patrolman and I conversed. He was a decent guy, but conditioned by the culture of the deep south. No klansman, he nevertheless accepted the "minor" deprivations suffered by blacks. What did I think? I chose my words carefully.

    "I am an officer of Marines. We, all of us…white, black, yellow, brown, red…are sworn to defend the Constitution, and give our lives for this country if need be. No one who bears that burden should be denied service at a lunch counter, use of a bathroom, a seat on a bus, or the right to cast a vote. It is really that simple".

    Our Founders asserted that our rights are derived from God, in our case, a Judeo-Christian God, and that "all men are created equal" before the law. Despite the words, it took us almost a century, and a civil war, to move closer to the expressed ideal. Another century later, my sailors and I were scouring the Pearl River littoral, dodging water moccasins, searching for the remains of a new breed of patriot.

    My patrolman could not understand why these college kids were descending on the south and stirring up trouble. It made him uncomfortable. It upset the status quo.
    I told him that the time was ripe. We had backed away from the reality of slavery at the time of the founding because, in order to cobble together a nation, some problems had to be marginalized. The national ideals were nevertheless codified. People of good will, of high moral purpose, would rectify our national shortcomings in due time.

    A patriot is defined as "a person who loves his country and will do all he can for it". As we approach our 228th birthday, we recognize our patriots in all our shapes, colors, uniforms, jobs… all of us who love "this greatest country on God's green earth".

    Happy Birthday. May God Bless America.

    I returned to the deep south recently. The highway that we used years ago during the search is now named in honor of the three young men who died pursuing an ideal.

  11. Zeb Zobenica 3 years ago

    My apologies if y’all are viewing separated text.
    I was able to get a normal display by clicking on ‘Edit’ below the entry.

  12. ChicagoJohn 3 years ago

    I’m just going to come out and say it:
    Anyone who attends Emory University is privileged, whether they’ll admit to it or not.

    The criticism is mostly against the protesters. I haven’t read any criticism of the paper, per se, although this column does beg for it. You are apparently learning that people will criticize journalists.
    Welcome to being a journalist.

    Before you tell me that I’m not qualified, I worked for two college newspapers. I was the News Editor at one, with a virtual ability to write about anything I pleased because I had so little oversight.
    There’s a weird thing that happens when no one tells you what to print. You get super indulgent. Then you realize you’re being indulgent. Then you pull back, and you get to see the indulgence in what others write.
    Stephen, you’re being indulgent.
    Yes, you are privileged; not just because you go to Emory, or whatever privilege you believe you have because of your skin color. You have the privilege of the pen. Its a privilege that some countries are literally dying for. Make your words count.

    With that in mind, the protesters aren’t doing this. They are protesting because chalk markings appeared that endorsed a candidate that they don’t like. By over-reacting so much, they literally made a huge swatch of the country deaf to real problems they might experience. They screamed “WOLF!” in the middle of their privileged college, and made a bunch of people look to find that they were afraid of (duh duh duh!) … political opinions other than their own!
    If you genuinely care about them – if you genuinely believe that the people protesting are being treated unfairly (in other cases) – you need to be the person bold enough to tell them to stop crying wolf when there is no wolf to be found.
    Just my 2 cents.

    1. Full Measure 3 years ago

      Preach it! I now need to leave no other comment.

  13. Stephen F. Noel 3 years ago

    Mr. Fowler, You seem to be critiquing less mainstream media sources, but then throw in quotes from or about the traditionally marginalized. On that point, everyone is walking around with their own story or experience. If I have to have the very same experiences as everyone else in order to understand, sympathize, criticize, or help them, then we are all doomed to failure. I could just as unreasonably turn the argument and say that because others don’t know what it’s like to be “privileged,” then they should stop talking about it. Once we begin to establish parameters of behavior, thought, politics, beliefs, etc. subjectively, we lose the ability to come together. No one has the corner on the market of ideas. Yet, somehow someone who says they experience micro-aggressions AND gets to define them without being challenged gets the trump card (no pun intended) in the debate. Respecting and trying to understand such a person’s experience is not enough anymore. Instead, everyone must retreat quietly and reverently in agreement with that person, lest they be branded as intolerant, closed minded, mean and now “violent.” Discourse is suffering in America. Now, all one has to do to win an argument is say “you don’t know what it’s like to be me,” case closed! Administrators are fearful to -heaven forbid- suggest to an offended student that he or she may be responding unreasonably, or even so, that they should give room to opposing and perhaps even offending viewpoints. I’ll I’ve done in this comment is advocate for dialogue, debate and even respectful disagreement, yet by simply doing so there are many who will define it and me as intolerant or even racist, yet they have no idea about my views in this regard. It’s too bad. I think we all suffer for it.

  14. Random Ami 3 years ago

    I was with you, until your brought the privilege card. The white privilege meme, as part of the whiny triad (diversity, microagression and white privilege) is an invention which only purpose is to create a sense of guilt among white people. Easy “if I can’t be skinny and pretty as you , no matter how much I try, the next thing I want is for you to become fat and ugly”. That’s the whole logic and brohahua behind this white privilege thing.

    In reality it doesn’t exist. People have no control of the situation surrounding their birth. If a white baby boy is born in a rich family, he will be taken to a rich house…because that’s where his parents live. He isn’t given some certificate of privilege. Neither is his dumped in some trailer and told, well kid, you will have to work you way up because you aren’t supposed to be born with ‘privileges’ that others don’t have.

    What they call “privilege” is nothing but the natural consequence of transferral of goods, services, finances, and cultural traits from ancestors to descendants. If white people invented the system of government, it’s laws, it’s industries, its financial systems, etc, is logical that their decendants will be the recipients of those makings, then, advance and develop on it and leave to their own decendants. That’s not bad, that’s good. If anything is a great thing that the USA is a majority affluent country instead of one where 95% lives in absolute poverty and a (REAL) 1% (usually the political rulers) holds 99% of the wealth. When I hear Americans complaining about 1% I want to throw up. So what if Tim Cook is a 1%er? How do you control the millions of people about to get a new iPhone, or open a can of Coke? Markets.

    So when these kids, within the walls of college dorms, with air conditioning, full meals, Steinway pianos, world class sports arenas, access to abundance of knowledge, information, and all kinds of facilities show despair over chalk written name of a candidate and go looking for safe spaces, common sense people can respond with mockery and scorn. Sorry, there isn’t any other way around that.

  15. Ki Limo 3 years ago

    TL;DR, No.

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