Quality of Life: All the News that’s Print to Fit

BY ERIN ARCHERD

Law students seem to find plenty of time to surf the Internet, which is why it’s so surprising how ill-informed many us are about current events. This may be attributable to our selective viewing. For example, most of my news comes from the New York Times Arts Section and Salon. While most law students appear up to date on the latest White House scandal, knowledge of the rest of the country and the world is shoddy. For all of you who find yourself a bit behind on the latest news, here’s a recap of some of 2006’s news stories, filtered for your entertainment and edification:

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela doesn’t like the U.S., so he’s going to offer oil at $50 a barrel, a move that some are labeling anti-American diplomacy. Condi’s been down in Bolivia trying to make nice with the Lefties there to cut off a potential anti-American axis in Latin America led by Castro and Chavez. Since “Axis of Evil” is already taken, this one can be called the “Sinister Axis.” Sen. John McCain once called a friend of mine a “Pinko/Commie/Hippie” when she told him she was from the San Francisco area. Without reinforcing stereotypes or giving ringing endorsement to Chavez and his policies in Venezuela, there is something appealing in one nation single-handedly bringing down oil global prices. Wal-Mart had better watch its back.

French youths are rioting because of rampant unemployment. No wait, they’re rioting because the government wants to pass a law that might actually create jobs, by allowing employers to fire employees under the age of 26 who have been working for less than two years, setting up what looks like an at-will employment system. The irony, of course, is that that students who are protesting this law are the ones most likely to get jobs in the first place. Making a statement by setting fire to a few Peugeots and Citroens seems to be the French pastime lately. The Germans must be quaking in their boots. Who knows what might happen if the French start working hard rather than hardly working.

Jill Carroll, a 28-year-old UMass graduate and reporter for the Christian Science Monitor in Iraq, was kidnapped and held for 82 days. Because she didn’t immediately start vilifying her captors upon her release, conservative bloggers began accusing her of, gasp, sympathizing with her captors, many graciously attributing her behavior to Stockholm Syndrome. After having been held hostage for three months in a foreign country in which the United States has tenuous control and remaining in that country after having just been released from captivity, a smart first instinct would be to keep one’s mouth shut until on safer soil. Jill Carroll wanted to make it back to Boston more than to make a political statement; we should all pray we have her survival instinct and luck should we ever be seized by terrorists.

As for backing away from providing an example for others, Google faced heat when it conceded to Chinese requests to filter its “controversial” content for China. Rather than tell the Chinese government, “Thanks, but we’d prefer to turn down millions of potential users,” Google agreed to block its content on a China-specific site. This, no doubt, prompted an April Fools rumor that China had bought out Google. The Google spin doctors are worthy of a seat in my contracts class. In a statement reported by the BBC, the search engine reasoned, “While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission.” For the sake of complete disclosure, let’s take a quick look at the first line of Google’s Corporate Mission Statement, available on its website, which reads,” Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Universal doesn’t allow parts of a whole by most conventional readings, but strict textualism is only beginning to make its comeback.

March Madness is the one news item many of us have been following. For all you East Coasters, Pac 10 represent. UCLA might not be my favorite team, and Florida beat them soundly, but anytime a college team west of the Rockies gains national attention, the world becomes a slightly better place, even if it is UCLA. Congrats also to my Cardinal Ladies, who made a deeper run into the tournament than anybody expected. By a strange twist of fate, I was staying in the same hotel as the LSU women’s team the night they beat Stanford. It was hard to fall asleep with the cheers of victory ringing down the halls.

Duke University found itself in a spotlight more uncomfortable than failing to make it past this year’s Sweet Sixteen as a number one seed. Three members of Duke’s Men’s Lacrosse team are accused of beating and raping a black exotic dancer, while casting racial aspersions on her. The young woman is a student at nearby North Carolina Central University, a predominantly black college. Police don’t know for sure which team members committed the crime, so prosecutors obtained a court order compelling DNA samples from 46 team members. The 47th team member didn’t have to give a sample because he was the only black man on the squad and the woman swore her attackers were white. Here’s a quick test to see if law school has warped your perspective from that of a caring, concerned citizen to that of a Harvard lawyer. Was your first reaction:

A) Gosh, that’s awful. What a terrible thing to happen to a young woman.

B) The racial and socioeconomic tensions that already exist around Duke will surely be exacerbated by this crime.

C) Clearly, they will prosecute this as a hate crime.

If you chose (C), congratulations, your reprogramming is complete. For an implicit commentary on media coverage here are the Fox News story headlines for this incident: “Duke President Speaks to Students about Rape Allegation,” “Duke Lacrosse Team’s Season Halted Over Rape Allegations,” and “Duke Lacrosse Lawyers: Players are Innocent.” Contrast those with the New York Times “Duke Players Practice While Scrutiny Builds” and “911 Calls Lead the Police to Duke’s Lacrosse Team.”

This is your Pinko reporter, signing off.

Any vital news stories Erin has neglected to cover? Think she went a bit far to the right in her mockery of the French? Email her at earcherd@law.harvard.edu.

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