By David Pedigo
Let me start off by saying that I think The Round Table is a very important publication that provides a much-needed forum for discussion on this campus. I have also been amazed at the efforts of The Round Table editors, as filling a newspaper every week on a campus of 1,300 apathetic students is no small task. However, in recent weeks I was struck by a rather visible decline in the journalistic quality of some of the opinion articles. The opinions themselves are not what struck me; rather, it was the misstatement of facts.
Greta Keister’s article in the last edition made the point that articles in the Opinion section were just that: opinions. I’m glad she said this, as this seemingly obvious fact seems to be overlooked by some of The Round Table’s more enraged readers. However, there is still a difference between an opinion piece and libel.
The legal definition of libel is “to publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation.” The key word here, as it applies to some recent published articles, is untruth. If you are going to publish an article, it is important that you do not state your opinions as facts; otherwise your work is in danger of becoming libelous.
One recent opinion article implied that sororities on campus have some sort of “quota” for the recruitment of black members and another one explicitly stated that “a goal for many collective fraternity members continues to be to ‘bang as many chicks’ as they can.” Whether or not you believe these statements to be true, the fact of the matter is that they are still opinions presented as facts in the absence of any evidence to back them up.
In today’s world, it is very easy to blur the line between opinion and fact. The news media is increasingly dominated by punditry; even US Senators such as Jon Kyl have been known to outright lie in order to get people on their side. For me, Kyl’s attack on Planned Parenthood, which he later asserted was “not intended to be a factual statement,” represented how tolerant American society has become of libelous and slanderous behavior. But I honestly believe that we at Beloit are above this.
Let’s be honest; if you go through the trouble of writing an article for The Round Table, you probably want people to read it, and more people will surely read articles with shock value. But if we at Beloit want The Round Table to have any sort of integrity as a forum for discussion, we should all take a step back and think about what we’re saying. If you have an opinion, even if it’s strong or offensive, feel free to publish it. Just make sure that it is framed as your opinion, and not misrepresented as a fact. For example, statements such as “I’m not sure that fraternity brothers major in much” might offend some frat boys, but it is still not libel. This statement is about the writer’s feelings towards fraternity members, and even people like me, a dumb frat boy who just wants to bang as many chicks as he can, have to respect it.