Political activity should be noted in political stories

Monday, February 11, 2008 | 4:39 p.m. CST; updated 7:55 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

In your article Feb. 5 on the Emily Brooker bill before the Missouri legislature, you quote a number of sources, including “Rick Puig, a sophomore at MU.” I thought I recognized the name and did a very quick online search. The results confirmed the following:

Rick Puig is president of Young Democrats of Missouri, according to the group’s Web site; a current member and current or former treasurer in the MU College Democrats, according to the group’s Web site; a current or former intern for the gubernatorial campaign of Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon, according to the Young Missouri Politico; and a guest contributor on at least a couple occasions to The Maneater on behalf of Democratic causes, according to the publication’s online archives.

As a witness at the bill hearing, Puig’s testimony was certainly relevant to quote from. It’s also possible he may have not have “formally” been there in one of the above-mentioned capacities. But to merely to refer to him as “a sophomore at MU” does not give the reader anywhere near the full or accurate story. Puig is a Democrat activist, and he was in Jeff City to attack a Republican-sponsored piece of legislation.

Whether you knowingly chose to omit this piece of information or never had the information in the first place, the result is the same. If the latter is the case, it makes one wonder why you did not care to question the background of a witness who opposed the bill. If there is a reasonable journalistic explanation for this, please let me know, and maybe I’ll learn something.

Having gone to MU, been involved with campus politics and having testified at state legislative hearings (not as a student, but later in professional life), I think I have a bit of perspective on this issue. As for the issue of intellectual diversity itself, it is absolutely a problem in today’s university, including MU. It wasn’t created out of whole cloth — it’s real, and it’s harmful to the university’s role as a place where the free exchange of ideas and the pursuit of truth reign supreme. If some GOP campus activist went down to testify in favor of the bill (importing partisans isn’t necessary for those supporting the legislation — they need only call real student victims, like Emily Brooker, to appear), I would of course also want you to note their partisan background.

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