‘Chicago Tribune’ Weighs In On Medill ‘Quotegate’

By: E&P Staff

Northwestern University Provost Daniel Linzer issued a “mush-mouth statement” that does not answer serious allegations that Medill school of Journalism Dean John Lavine fabricated “self-serving lies” in the school’s alumni magazine, the Chicago Tribune said in an editorial over the weekend.

Linzer’s statement reported on an investigation into the fabrication allegations by three prominent Medill graduates, including former Tribune Publisher Jack Fuller. The editorial characterizes the statement — which said the investigation found “no evidence to point to any likelihood that the quotes were fabricated” — was “evasive” and “inaccurate.”

“There is indeed evidence suggesting that the quotations were fabricated: Spett’s research,” said the editorial, referring to David Spett, a columnist for the school newspaper, The Daily Northwestern.

Spett was the first to raise the possibility that Lavine had fabricated a quote attributed to an unnamed student who enthusiastically supported a marketing class added to the journalism program under changes the dean has engineered. Spett tracked down all 29 students who took the class Lavine referenced, and found that all denied saying or e-mailing the quote. The 29 were also re-interviewed by a Medill professor and Tribune columnist Eric Zorn with the same results.

“Spett may have produced evidence that, on closer scrutiny, proves accurate or inaccurate, compelling or unpersuasive,” the Tribune editorial said. “But he certainly produced provocative evidence.”

Provost Linzer’s statement also said that the investigators “unanimously concluded that although a record of the student statements that were quoted cannot be found, sufficient material does exist about the relevant storefront reporting experience and marketing course to demonstrate that sentiments similar to the quotes had been expressed by students. Thus, the committee found that there is ample evidence that the quotes were consistent with sentiment students expressed about the course in course evaluations and no evidence to point to any likelihood that the quotes were fabricated.”

The Tribune called that “evasive.”

“Direct quotation isn’t merely ‘consistent with sentiment,'” the paper said. “That’s called paraphrasing. Direct quotation chronicles what a person said.”

Linzer’s statement,” it added, “comes across as an attempt to drown suspicion with words.”

The Tribune notes its own institutional stake at Medill, which is named for an early owner and editor of the paper.

The editorial, headlined “Calling President Bienen,” concludes: “When will Northwestern President Henry Bienen cut through campus protocol and politesse, and tell his subordinates this unnecessary episode is embarrassing his university?”

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