[Retracted] Fighting Fire

[Retracted] Fighting Fire

An open letter regarding the Guardian’s coverage of the Price Center Suspected Arson

Regarding the Guardian’s coverage of the Dec. 3 Price Center fires, our editorial board felt the need to address concerns over our practices and methods employed to report and comment on the story in our news and opinion sections.

First, the Guardian Editorial Board is issuing a full retraction of our editorial piece, “Fighting Fire,” which appeared in print and online on Feb. 13, 2014. The piece unfairly implies that the suspects necessarily started the fires in Price Center. The Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution provide the right to a fair, speedy trial without partiality, and that the presumption of innocence is guaranteed to all accused of a crime. These rights were unjustly disregarded in our editorial piece, as we unfairly associated motives perceived by police as fact and suspects as guilty parties. The piece has been removed from the Guardian’s website, and we are formally disassociating our editorial board, and the entire newspaper, with the piece and ourselves.

While the piece overall is unfair and poorly worded, we maintain our stance that arson, particularly when it threatens the safety of students, staff and faculty on campus, is wrong and never justified. It is unfortunate that this message, aimed at whoever actually set the fires, was lost among premature accusations, assumptions and associations in this piece.

Some comments from our readers have inaccurately identified the Guardian’s Editor in Chief, Ms. Laira Martin, as the sole author of the editorial piece. The Guardian’s Editorial Board policy, which appears alongside editorials weekly in our print edition, attributes editorials to the entire editorial board, as our pieces represent the opinion of a simple majority of the editorial board, following a vote. Our website’s current settings attribute all stories to Ms. Martin by default, and in this case, the attribution was an error that should have been corrected before the piece was published. The by-line was changed as soon as the mistake came to our attention.

Our editorial board and news section staff maintains that the front-page news coverage was fair. At no point did our news story assume the suspects were guilty, and the story correctly attributed accusations and perceived motives to appropriate sources. On that note, we would like to address some of the content of the article to clarify our news coverage:

  • San Diego County Crime Stoppers, the agency that published the surveillance footage on YouTube and wrote a public, Feb. 7 media release on the events, is a private organization that logs anonymous tips of potential crimes and reports them to county and city policing authorities. While the Guardian is not mandated to explain the nature of organizations used as sources on our news pages, we felt that in this instance, our coverage would have been augmented by including more information about the San Diego County Crime Stoppers’ involvement in the case.
  • Our news section staff failed to contact the suspects for comment at any point before we published the story, and we acknowledge that it would have behooved our news staff to reach out to the suspects for comment. We learned of Nguyen’s Feb. 7 arraignment after it had already occurred and therefore failed to send a reporter to cover it. Both of these would have lent our story more journalistic integrity.
  • The still image of the suspects, which came from surveillance video footage that accompanied the story in our print edition, was provided to us by Los Angeles Times reporter Tony Perry and did not violate any journalism ethics or protocols. He received the footage from San Diego County Crime Stoppers. The same images can be found on several other news websites, including Fox 5 San Diego, the Los Angeles Times and NBC 7. Although the image is widely available to the public, we should have sourced where we obtained the image in our print edition.
  • A paragraph that noted that one of the suspects pleaded not guilty should have appeared at the beginning of the story, though its inclusion in the story satisfies reporting standards.

We apologize for the unfairness in our editorial piece, and we hope that feedback from our readership on all of our coverage will continue to improve our reporting, our professionalism and our ability to serve the UCSD community as the campus voice for students.

Sincerely,

The UCSD Guardian Editorial Board

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Comments (6)

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  • S

    SkobesFeb 17, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Quite possibly the worst editorial piece I have ever read in my entire life. Extremely embarrassed that my alma mater’s paper staff is hell bent on depicting their fellow students as guilty before a verdict is reached and instead playing the advocate for a multibillion dollar corporation and an increasingly privatized “public” university. “Some students should get a job?” Please. Some students should get a reality check and start taking a stand before the world burns up in the flames of corporate greed.

    Reply
  • J

    Jorge MariscalFeb 15, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    To the Editorial Board: The “note” that now accompanies the op-ed is reason for even more wonderment. Are you all, each member of the Editorial Board, taking responsibility for this awful opinion piece that tries and convicts two fellow students? Does it truly represent the views of all of you? Was there no voice of reason on the Board staff? The Guardian surely has fallen to a new low.

    Reply
    • G

      GuardianFeb 15, 2014 at 9:53 pm

      The author was mislabled on the website. The Editorial Board is always the byline for editorials as can be seen in the print edition. The note was for clarification.

      Reply
  • N

    N. PayneFeb 14, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    “It might be prudent for these people so bent on changing the world to attend lecture every once in a while and possibly even get a job”

    One gem of many…ad hominem fallacies abound, from the editor in chief herself. This is laughable journalism

    Reply
  • D

    davide carpanoFeb 14, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    I cannot thank you enough for writing what you did. Upon reading this editorial today i was left deeply saddened that such dangerous commentary could be published in our student newspaper. Your words eloquently captured my exact thoughts.
    It is critical to remember that struggles are rarely started or won through ‘institutional channels’. And it is both dangerous and disrespectful to insinuate, from a place of privilege, that they are.
    Again, thank you.

    Reply
  • J

    Jorge MariscalFeb 13, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    With all respect, there are so many things wrong with Ms. Martin’s commentary it is difficult to know where to begin. While we all agree that “setting fire to stuff” is not wise, the rest of her assertions are troubling. First, she presents the case against the two arrested students as if they have already been found guilty of the offense. Does she not believe her fellow students deserve a fair hearing before she convicts them in the media? Second, she resorts to an old adage used for decades by conservative old fogeys–“those pining for a Berkeley-style rebellion environment should, to be frank, grow up.” Seriously, that is Ms. Martin’s advice to her peers who perceive injustice and want to fix it (and here I am not referring to the Starbucks issue)? I suppose that had she been here in 1969 she would have told Angela Davis to “grow up.” I am sure Ms. Martin would not have enjoyed the response. Finally, Ms. Martin’s representation of the student reaction to the Compton Cookout/lynching noose in Geisel episode of four years ago is inaccurate. As a participant-observer, I can assure her that BSU, MEChA, and other students did not “work well with university administrators to meet their needs.” In fact, students had to force countless meetings, organize multiple protests, stage a walkout of an official “teach-in,” and occupy the Chancellor’s office before administrators would even sit at the negotiating table. The Black Resource Center is a good thing but it was only 1 of 19 student demands agreed to by the administration, many of which have yet to be realized. We can only hope that Ms. Martin, should she continue to pursue journalism, will have more wisdom to offer her readers in the future than she did in this uninformed opinion piece.

    Reply