Oberlin College newspaper editorial blames 'increasingly authoritarian country' for school's legal trouble
- Oberlin College's student newspaper published an editorial taking aim at the media's coverage of the Oberlin College defamation case.
- The editorial board also cited an "increasingly authoritarian country."
Oberlin College's student newspaper editorial board blasted national media coverage of the Gibson’s Bakery trial, saying that it “misses the mark,” and that the ruling is part of an “increasingly authoritarian country.”
The Oberlin Review’s editorial board published an editorial Wednesday, titled “Media Coverage of Gibson’s Verdict Misses the Mark,” in which it strongly criticized how national media covered the case resulting in the college being ordered to pay Gibson's Bakery $44 million.
“Earlier this month, a jury awarded Gibson’s Bakery $11 million following a month-long trial stemming from the bakery’s lawsuit against Oberlin College and Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo,” the editorial board wrote. "Then, last Thursday, it added $33 million in punitive damages. This stunning decision — which strikes a serious blow against free speech on college campuses across the country — has garnered significant attention in major media outlets such as CNN and The New York Times, as well as on social media and various personal blogs.”
In 2016, three African American students were in a physical incident directly outside of the bakery after the son of the store’s owner accused one of the students of shoplifting, according to the report. Oberlin students then claimed that they had been racially profiled, which prompted boycotts and protests of the bakery. A year after the incident, Gibson’s sued the college for coordinating a smear campaign.
The editorial board takes issue with the national media and claims “much of the coverage and commentary has either inaccurately represented the lawsuit and the events that led up to it, or has only presented parts of the larger story.”
Members of the editorial board “identified three of the key ways that existing coverage has skewed of misrepresented events leading up to the trial.”
First, the board claims that Gibson’s employees have had a pretty good amount of control in the media because the initial police report was “wildly prejudiced in favor of Gibson’s.” They claim that there was no perspective from any of the three African Americans in the police report.
“This omission is meaningful — particularly in a country with a long and shameful history of manipulating testimony and evidence to criminalize people of color, especially Black people,” the board stated.”
The editorial board also took issue with Oberlin College being portrayed as a “Goliath in encouraging students to crush a small, locally-owned family business.”
“While it’s true that the College is often not the most considerate neighbor, in this situation the accusation is entirely contrived, and the support that it has found not just from personal blogs, but major media outlets as well, is misleading," the board wrote.
According to a previous Campus Reform article, several administrators at the college were accused of using college resources to disseminate allegedly libelous information. Members of the editorial board state that the responsibility of the protests lies “squarely with the students,” and strongly strikes down the idea that the College could somehow be responsible.
“On campus, the idea that administrators could somehow orchestrate a student protest is laughable; Oberlin students prize their independence above nearly all else. If anything, students at the time felt that administrators were dragging their feet — especially after it was announced that the College would resume its contract with Gibson’s in early 2017,” the editorial board wrote.
Lastly, the newspaper accuses many journalists of appearing to believe that the question here is whether the students who were involved in the original altercation were guilty of the alleged crime, or if students were in the right to protest the bakery since they were accused of racial profiling.
“Many outlets have even used the names of the three students in their coverage of the trial — an irresponsible decision given that the three students were not parties to the lawsuit and have nothing to do with the legal questions at hand,” wrote the board. “We encourage readers and journalists to reject this framing of the story.”
As Campus Reform has reported, the students' names were used because all three pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and later admitted in court that the incident was, in fact, not racially motivated.
The editorial board states that the court decision in favor of the Gibsons is “a decision with profoundly disturbing implications for free speech at Oberlin and on college campuses across an increasingly authoritarian country,” and even takes a shot at conservative commentators in the process, saying that they’re ignoring a “real” free speech crisis.
“Conservative commentators often talk about a supposed crisis of free speech on campuses, wherein students wield the sword of political correctness to silence dissenting opinions. To the contrary, this verdict is a real warning shot against free speech,” the board wrote.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10