Thursday, March 05, 2009
I bitch a lot about how The Daily Cal sucks because it isn't willing to investigate or challenge people, so I now owe Zach Williams a drink for this story. (He knows how to reach me. I also just realized The Daily Cal has two different Zach Williamses writing for it at the moment.) It's the kind of thing we need to see more of from The Daily Cal.
The story doesn't say anything people are going to find surprising. CalSERVE promoted the recall. That's not really news. But publishing the sausage-making is something that isn't done very often. We normally hear the view of officials on their own terms, prepared for public consumption. Seeing the behind-the-scenes e-mails has a significant emotional impact on people, even if they intellectually knew they were being sent.
The piece connects the obvious views of CalSERVE with their public statements of neutrality. It creates a sense of deception. It makes people ask "Why didn't Roxanne Winston come out and say her position on this? Was she ashamed? Was she afraid? Was she hiding something?"
"I wanted to put you all in contact with each other to ensure that the process is moving along," Winston wrote, referencing the recall, in a Nov. 17 e-mail sent to senators and a Students for Justice in Palestine official. "I will lend my support as best I can."That's not going to be too disturbing to anyone who was paying attention, but it sounds weird combined with her statement:
Winston was also reluctant to take sides publicly, telling the Daily Cal she would refrain from commenting on the recall except on its general implications for the senate.Here I'm going to point out again that using the recall process subverts proportional representation, so I don't even buy her fluffy rhetoric. But more generally, her suggestion that she has the power to cause division, but chose not to, is going to sound ridiculous when placed next to her support for the recall election, which was one of the most divisive things we've seen on campus for a while. (Not between proponents and opponents so much as between regular students and officialdom)
"I think it could cause division," she said on Dec. 3. "But I think what's most important is that students have a say in who represents them."
CalSERVE Senator Kifah Shah suggested reaching out to Student Action senators to support the recall in an e-mail sent to CalSERVE officials and independent senator Saira Hussain on Dec. 4.This is the sausage-making e-mail that is jarring, despite it being totally consistent with what we already know. I'm not even sure I can explain what makes it so jarring (I write e-mails like this all the time) except that it doesn't sound like something an elected official should be saying.
"We could tell SA (Student Action) senators how this really has nothing to do about party politics, but accountability and prove it by how an SA senator would take a seat if the election succeeded," Shah wrote. "SA is not that closely attached to John, probably think of him as dispensable."
ASUC Attorney General Michael Sinanian said CalSERVE officials including Shah and Senator Mary June Flores had approached him shortly after Shah's e-mail, pressuring him to expedite the process so that the recall could be held during the fall semester.As usual, I have no idea what Sinanian is trying to say. How shortly after the Nov. 17 e-mail could they have approached him? He had no process to expedite until he saw the petition Dec. 3, and by the end of that day's Senate meeting, it was clear that the election couldn't be set until Dec. 10. The only part of the process of setting the election date he had any control over was determining when the petition was presented to the Senate in order to define when the "next" meeting would be. That's not an issue of practicality, it's a question of interpretation.
"They would repeatedly mention to me 'why can't this be done sooner,'" Sinanian said. "For them to want a recall at the end of the fall-during finals-was completely heinous, and in addition it more than implicates them if there is a question whether they supported the recall or not."
Anyway, I'm hoping to see some interesting fallout from this story, even in the absence of anything particularly new.
Update: A quick look at Facebook suggests that some Student Action senators are pointing to this story without comment. I would assume that means they think there's something here that will appeal to their people, and will advance the Student Action campaign.
I should reremind folks that, as far as I can tell, the article doesn't expose any wrongdoing on the part of CalSERVE folks. But someone reading it could really come away with that impression. In fact, if people continually point to it as if there's something important revealed, it will come to be seen as revealing something important.
To elaborate a bit on my journalism views, I think the article was unfair to CalSERVE. It implies a negativity to things, and doesn't provide any opportunity for CalSERVE to defend/justify itself. So I think the writing was somewhat problematic. Nevertheless, it indicates a willingness to threaten the comfort zone of ASUC Senators publicly, and I hope that in moving forward, The Daily Cal improves its writing rather than making the easy choice and turning away from this kind of journalism in response to hostility.
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