Monday, December 13, 2004

Boot licking: alumni magazines kowtow to power

In the past couple of years the academy has come under fire as a cesspool of liberal back-patting that leaves no room for political disagreement (though the fact that the American government has become an echo chamber for radical conservatives does not seem to rouse similar concerns). Personally, I think there may be some merit to such critiques, but that is a topic for another post.

Here, I would like to highlight the great service that the liberal media wing of the liberal academy-- otherwise known as alumni magazines-- has been performing for the corporate and administrative status quo lately.

First of all, I was appalled to read in the PAW (Princeton Alumni Weekly), less than a month ahead of the general elections, a hagiographic article on Donald Rumsfeld '54 (you will have to click on "Print archives" on the left sidebar, and then select the Oct. 6 issue and click on "Features" to get to the article). Fortunately, many of my fellow alums registered their dismay on the letters page in subsequent issues: Jeff Wells '84 writes, "I had no idea Rummy was such a great guy. This certainly changes my view of him as the arrogant architect of a failed war strategy and violator of the Geneva Convention."

And now the CAM (Cambridge Alumni Magazine) runs a profile of alum John Browne (click on "Profile 1"), the CEO of British Petroleum, that cannot be described as anything other than fawning. The article acknowledges that BP has been "a natural target for protesters," and even runs a couple of colorful photos of protesters, but the author has not bothered to find out what the protests are about or whether they are likely to be well-founded. He did not interview a single protester. But boy, do they make pretty illustrations with their rainbow-colored umbrellas and their Tibetan flags!

Instead, the author allows his interviewee to airily dismiss the possibility that a large corporation could be corrupt: "There are rules and regulations," Browne assures us, and "there are witnesses around," in the form of the company's staff, to preclude any malfeasance. Um, tell that to all the Americans who lost their life savings in the Enron collapse. We've got rules and regulations, too, and Enron had ample staff, some of whom have since come under federal indictment. And-- call me a radical-- I believe that just because something's legal doesn't mean it's ethical.

Anyway, I'm no journalist, but something tells me that simply talking to the CEO and searching the company website is not the way to form a reasoned judgment about a controversial figure or a controversial company.

Shame on you, alumni magazines! I recognize that you're supposed to be boosters, but it's horrible to watch you prostitute yourselves to powerful men.

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