UPDATED: Student Editors Apologize for Anti-Semitic Column

Nov. 1 update follows.

Editors at Portland State University’s student newspaper, the Daily Vanguard, have righted an egregious wrong.

On Oct. 18, the newspaper published a column by staff member Caelan MacTavish. The opinion piece, entitled “A city divided: religious disputes over Jerusalem require diplomacy,” blamed the Jews themselves for anti-Semitism, disparaged the Jewish people, and included a number of absurd factual errors about Judaism and Israel.

Along with an abundance of other inflammatory rhetoric, the column suggested that “the Jews” themselves are to blame for historic anti-Semitism and even the Holocaust, claimed that nobody can convert to Judaism, and claimed that Israelis are imitating the Nazis.

That same day, CAMERA contacted the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper to point out the problems and errors in MacTavish’s column and to express grave concern with the piece. We also urged the newspaper to publish an apology for running the column. Portland State students, faculty and others also protested the newspaper’s decision to publish the hateful column.

To his credit, the editor listened to our concerns, and readily agreed to consider our points and discuss the matter with his colleagues.  This week, the crude and bigoted column was pulled from the Daily Vanguard Web site and replaced with the following editor’s note:

Editor’s note, Oct. 27, 2005: This article has been removed from the web site by the editors because after review, we find it does not meet the editorial standards of the Vanguard. A statement on the article by the editorial board has been published  and is linked below, along with other opinion pieces about this article.

A staff editorial in the Oct. 28 Daily Vanguard forcefully addressed the issue, noting that “The column was riddled with factual inaccuracies and overbroad generalizations of the Jewish faith, people and history,” and adding that “The Vanguard deeply regrets that the column was not given as much editorial attention as it deserved, and realizes in retrospect that the column simply should not have been published….The column neither contributes to educated debate on the subject matter nor provides any insight into the issue that it ostensibly addresses.”

The newspaper also published a guest column by CAMERA about free speech, civil discourse, and journalistic ethics. Other published op-eds, one by the Jewish Student Union< and another by Portland State faculty, condemned the MacTavish piece and faulted its errors, and letters by the University President and others also tackled the issue.

While the newspaper’s original decision to publish the column was deplorable, it is a positive and hopeful sign that the staff – a group of students that likely includes future journalists – was willing to engage in difficult self-examination and admit their mistake.

UPDATE, Nov. 1, 2005: Daily Vanguard‘s Public Editor Addresses Retraction

The Nov. 1 issue of the newspaper included a column by the Public Editor addressing the issue. According to the editor, this column, entitled “Anatomy of a Retraction,”  was written “to help readers understand the circumstances that led to the printing of the [MacTavish] column as well as the process that led to Friday’s response.” The editor added: “There is no question in my mind that ‘A city divided’ should not have been published as it appeared in the paper, because it was factually inaccurate and made arrant overgeneralizations,” and explained why editors “didn’t read MacTavish’s column as closely or as critically as we do under normal circumstances.”

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