'No Comment' Opens Doors for Pushback
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013 13:10
We know that former women’s basketball Head Coach Keith Brown was allegedly verbally abusive. We know he resigned last Thursday. We just don’t know what Georgetown had to say about it.
As a former executive editor of The Hoya, I can commiserate with the current staff. The Georgetown spokespersons have been notoriously tight-lipped as long as recent memory serves. At times I understood their reticence; it would be imprudent for them to divulge details about ongoing negotiations for Department of Public Safety officers’ wages or a lawsuit waged against the university by an angry student. “Decline to comment”s on these and other sensitive issues are defenses I can appreciate — though I tried hard to fight them.
There are two aspects that set the story about Brown’s investigation and resignation apart from these more understandable instances of evasiveness. The first is simply that it is related to sports information, one of the least sensitive pots that Georgetown has its fingers in. The second is that this is information about an important investigation that was initiated by serious allegations and events. It is something that directly affects the Georgetown community, which deserves to know the information. The excuse university spokeswoman Stacy Kerr gave to The Hoya for why Georgetown is not planning to make the results of the investigation public — that it could prevent others from revealing similar concerns — is bizarre in that presumably insight into previous circumstances of alleged abuse, and the knowledge that the university has acted on them would encourage a questioning student to come forward.
I’m voicing concerns that I know the staff of The Hoya shares with me. But it is for these reasons that The Hoya needs to redouble its efforts to push back when the Office of Communications resists. Its editors should not shy away from working to overcome exasperating equivocations in the face of what is clearly a story of campus-wide and national interest.
The Hoya reported that the university declined to make public the findings of the investigation and why two weeks passed between the initial complaint and the decision to place Brown on leave. The editorial staff should not accept this lack of accountability on the university’s part and should make stronger efforts to pressure the Office of Communications for details on the university’s decisions, its course of action and the results of its investigation. The letter from the editors in the Oct. 4 issue was a great start, but clearly the university isn’t listening.
The Hoya cannot be the premier news source for Georgetown if it does not report the best story, and it cannot report the best story if it does not wrestle with the university. The Hoya hit a roadblock when the normally communicative Athletics Department redirected inquiries on the investigation to the Office of Communications. I applaud The Hoya for contacting former players under Brown, but the search for sources need not stop there. That WJLA was able to learn more about the investigation indicates there were untapped fonts of information, including, perhaps, friends of current players, coaches who had previously worked with Brown, or even members of other teams. With outside information, The Hoya may even have leverage over the university to provide the details it wants.
There have been plenty of other news items in the past year about which the university has been maddeningly cagey for disappointingly inadequate reasons. But this story is too important to get tucked away into a short and unsavory chapter of the Athletics Department’s history. If The Hoya allows that to happen, we will never know how the university conducted a charged and high-profile investigation, and we will never know if that investigation is complete.
The drive to pierce the surface of a story and extract the truth is what makes a reporter a journalist. This must be forcefully attempted even in the face of the obstruction that is the Office of Communications. The Hoya owes this to the laborious hours it pours into its pages, and it owes this to its readers, who pick up the newspaper expectating that the words on each page represent exhaustive efforts to find and tell the truth.
One of The Hoya’s greatest and singular responsibilities is to keep Georgetown honest. One of the only ways for the newspaper to accomplish that is to push back against the “no comment”s and persevere toward the facts.
Michele Hong graduated from the School of Foreign Service in 2010. She served as executive editor for The Hoya in the fall of 2008.