Northwestern’s bungling student journalists were just copying the professionals

In 2018, the editor of The New York Review of Books was fired for — see if you can spot the pattern — covering the news. Ian Buruma published a piece in which a high-profile Canadian broadcaster who had been tried and cleared on sexual-assault charges noted that he had been tried and cleared on sexual-assault charges. For the crime of covering the news, the editor was chased out of his job as other journalists, including Slate’s Isaac Chotiner, cheered on the mob.

On and on it goes: NPR fired a movie critic, David Edelstein, for making a joke about an infamous movie scene (that butter in “Last Tango in Paris”). ESPN hired the controversial commentator Rush Limbaugh and then fired the controversial commentator for producing controversial commentary, i.e. that a black quarterback had been overestimated for reasons of racial politics.

The strange thing is that while doing real journalism will get you fired or produce a groveling apology, inept journalism generally will not: Nobody actually got fired when Rolling Stone published a hard-hitting story in 2014 about a horrifying rape at the University of Virginia that turned out to be an utter fiction; managing editor Will Dana was permitted to make a graceful exit some months later without the stigma of being given the boot. The New York Times published a hit piece during the 2008 presidential campaign suggesting John McCain was having an affair with a lobbyist based on precisely squat (the paper’s own ombudsman confessed as much) and later published an absurd non-retraction retraction — after the election, in the face of litigation. Jim Rutenberg, the lead author on that article, still writes for the Times.