While reporters filmed a segment on Cornell faculty member’s political donations for Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor on Friday, University officials asked them to stop interviewing students on campus, a move that generated headlines across the country. The piece primarily mocked Cornell and its “liberal bias” through student interviews following a report conducted by The Sun that found 96 percent of faculty members who contributed to political campaigns in the past four years donated to liberal campaigns. Yet what stood out above all was Cornell officials’ decision to ask reporters to not interview students on campus. Despite the best intentions of administrators, we believe those in Day Hall only exacerbated Cornell’s embarrassment in Monday’s Fox News piece.
Cornell’s “Best Practices for Media” guide, which was sent to Fox News, as well as The Sun upon request, dictates that journalists “are not permitted to interview, photograph or shoot video of individual students on the Cornell campus, without obtaining permission from the student and the University.” In regards to Fox News, Joel Malina, vice president for University Relations, argued in a statement that administrators sought to “protect student privacy” in their decision to enforce the media policy. We fail to see how Fox News was violating the privacy of students on campus, as students could have declined to be interviewed.
As a news source independent from Cornell, The Sun has served the campus and Ithaca community since 1880. Yet, with our reporters filing dozens of stories each week interviewing students, faculty and staff members, The Sun should not be the exception to Cornell’s media policy. Requiring a student publication to acquire the University’s blessing every time a reporter seeks to interview Cornellians at a shared governance meeting, a lecture or protest on Ho Plaza is unfeasible, which is likely why the administration does not apply such a policy to The Sun. Yet by requiring other media organizations to receive permission to interview students on campus and giving The Sun special treatment, the University’s policy remains inconsistent, with a focus on protecting the Cornell brand rather than its students.
There is no question that the Fox News segment clearly sought to embarrass Cornell through its cuts to cultural clips and witless questions. Yet the University’s response to the piece was far more embarrassing than reporter Jesse Watters’ shoddy journalism techniques. By disallowing reporters to ask students questions on campus, Cornell gave Watters the ammo he needed to ridicule the Hill in a greater capacity. Instead, Cornell should have embraced the autonomy of its students, allowing them to offer their consent in regards to media inquires, rather than acting as the gatekeeper to the Hill.