by Larry Houseworth

Charlie Beckett of the London School of Economics addressed journalism’s turn to emotionalism in a talk given at the 2015 Science Festival in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England (“How journalism is turning emotional and what that might mean for news.”) He stated, “the value of objective journalism is the idea that journalism can attempt to give an account that is balanced, fact-based and that gives a fair summary not just of what has happened but the context around it without the distortion of the journalist’s own feelings.”

Beckett acknowledged there is a place for tempered emotion. He said, “Making a drama of a crisis has always been part of mass media. The theatre of news is as old as broadcast journalism. … If news does not get your attention, if you do not find it interesting, amusing, frightening or uplifting than you are less likely to take notice.”

The balance of emotion and objectivity “can only be an aspiration,” he conceded. “All journalists are human and have different factors that shape their worldview and their understanding of particular circumstances. … By selecting a story for reporting you have made a choice. The facts that you omit, as well as those you include, are selective.”

To validate Beckett’s opinion, we need look no further than the media’s recent treatment of the Virginia Military Institute where the omission of relevant facts has colored the coverage.

Leveraging passionate post-George Floyd outrage against hollow allegations of “veneration of the Confederacy,” The Roanoke Times, Richmond Times- Dispatch, and particularly The Washington Post have devoted much time and energy to allegations of entrenched racism at VMI since its admission of Black cadets in 1968, and embedded misogyny since accepting women twenty-five years ago.

Profuse use of verbiage such as “enslaver,” “lynching,” “under fire,” and “resistance” telegraphed Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira’s intent to energize emotions and outrage. But this language, along with carefully parsed interview quotes and extracts from anonymous social media platforms (e.g., Jodel, StupidChat, Clandesto) told an incomplete story.

Shapira and other purveyors of these highly charged articles omitted a trove of known, trusted, respected, and readily accessible data. For example:

  • The FBI’s Civil Rights Division tracks hate crimes in its Uniform Crime Reporting Program and has done so since 1992. The program tracks incidents of hate crimes across 18,000 cities, counties, states, federal agencies, as well as public and private colleges and universities. It provides this data in an easily extractable format that pinpoints instances of racial/ethnic/religious hate crimes down to individual campuses for identification of bad actors, trend analyses, and corrective action.
  • The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) manages and maintains the online “Campus Safety and Security Cutting Tool.” The tool includes data from the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women as required by the Jeanne Cleary Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Statistics Act. Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) data (domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking) is available in the same fashion as the FBI’s.
  • The Association of American Universities’ quadrennial “Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct.” The surveys provide data from AAU’s 66 U.S. and Canadian universities surrounding incidents of nonconsensual sexual contact, attacker tactics, sexual harassment, stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence. Campus administrators use this data to tailor policies to combat sexual assault and misconduct.

Data from the FBI and Department of Education is synthesized below.

Hate crimes per 1,000 Students. (Click for more legible image.)

The last hate crime reported at VMI was in 2013. The average number of hate crimes per 1,000 students over the ten-year period was .06 — comparable to Christopher Newport University and less than Longwood University and the College of William & Mary. When was the last time you read a Washington Post hit piece or a state-funded investigation into racism at one of those other institutions?

You didn’t because there were none.

This chart shows the incidence of crimes reportable under the Violence Against Women Act.

Ranking of Virginia Four-Year Public Universities by crime per 1K students under the Violence Against Women Act. (Click for more legible image)

While hardly stellar, VMI ranked fifth among Virginia’s public four-year institutions behind Christopher Newport, Virginia State, Radford University and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, and was comparable to that of Mary Washington University.

Not found in this composite portrait is the fact that violence-against-women allegations at VMI have declined markedly in the most recent six years as an outgrowth of initiatives undertaken there. If you don’t remember reading about those initiatives, it’s because no one wrote about them either.

There is still work to be done. VMI and Virginia’s other fourteen state-supported colleges and universities must diligently and even-handedly address all race and sex inequities.

But, as Beckett states, wrapping journalism in a warm cocoon of emotion relegates objective, balanced, and fact-based journalism to a “…filter bubble – an echo chamber … responding to emotional triggers that please us – hearing only views that support our views and confirm our prejudices.”

Genuine change comes neither through the pedantic tedium of cold, raw data nor the fiery glare of blind emotion. Change requires measured, quantifiable, and agenda-less symmetry built on reasoned emotion and known, trusted, and respected data. Sadly, the citizens of Virginia have yet to see this from The Roanoke Times, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and The Washington Post. We deserve better.

Lawrence E. Houseworth is a proud member of the VMI Class of 1972, the first class to admit African-American cadets. He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute with a B.A. in English and a six-year commission in the Army Air Defense Artillery. After five years in sales and a 30-year career in the defense industry, he retired with wife Marie in Richmond.

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10 responses to “VMI, Media Bias, and Lies by Omission”

  1. there go those pesky fact thingees getting in the way again……

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      On a return trip from Blacksburg Saturday we turned into Lexington for lunch, then drove north out of town on Main to get back to the interstate. Rats in street clothes were going in and out of a campus building, parents in tow, looking pretty nervous. Saw a couple of upperclassmen in uniform waiting at the light, one white and one black, apparently having a nice friendly chat. Hard enough for people who have been wronged, but where does a school go to get its reputation back?

      1. Fake News!!!!! It’s very apparent the Oppressor was forcing the Oppressed to talk.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Depends on class.

      2. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        Much like what occurred at Penn State following Sandusky, they took away scholarships that could’ve been given for those to better themselves.

        All of this will in the end hurt the students as the school will never recover it’s reputation.

      3. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        You sure they were rats in street clothes?
        There’s always Washington & Lee.

        “Hard enough for people who have been wronged, but where does a school go to get its reputation back?”

        Washington and Lee

  2. tmtfairfax Avatar

    Why would anyone expect the Post to operate as a reporter of news and facts when its overpaid “journalists” can provide their opinions, including what the public need not know?

    Keep in mind that this is the media company that did not want Virginia readers to know that overweight trucks paid but a fraction of the costs of the road damage they caused in state permit fees. That was an argument against putting all the repair costs on ordinary people and businesses.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Unfortunately, it’s worse than you think.

      Modern internet connected systems along with the oceans of data they generate allow for deep analysis of the habits of social platform users. These habits can be codified and used to “pander” to the social media users in order to get more views and longer view time. More views and longer view time allows for more ad insertions which generate more profit. It’s the so-called “algorithms” which control this.

      What the analysis tells the platform owners is two-fold:

      1. Total View-time is enhanced if the platform can feed the viewer information with which they already agree.

      2. Total View-time is further enhanced if the platform can not only feed the viewer information with which they agree but also feed the viewer information which demonizes those who hold contrary beliefs.

      I think that if the Washington Post stopped being biased it would lose readers / viewers. Ditto for Fox News.

      We have met the enemy and he is us.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    I have a serious suggestion. How about VMI recruit blacks and women AND provide each of them with a way to actually blog their experiences and VMI “life” on a daily or weekly basis?

    Let them show the world that VMI is not the institution they were before nor what folks like Shapiro claim.

    Further, why not invite the Va Star and other media to come to VMI and interview students – and report ?

    Why only WaPo?

    Don’t be a victim. Stand proud and show who you really are.

    Why is this a bad idea?

    1. VMI Cadets don’t have enough time in the day to do blogging. It is part of the experience.

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