Anonymous editorial questions hiring of
psychoanalyst to teach a journalism ethics
course, following his lost libel suit
against New Yorker magazine writer sp.
JOURNALISM DEAN TOM Goldstein's hiring of Jeffrey Masson to co-teach a journalism ethics course at the University of California, Berkeley, produced a scathing reaction in a student newsletter.
Goldstein, a lawyer and former New York Times reporter, who heads the Graduate School of Journalism, retorted that the complaining student editorial "represents the kind of ugly journalism that has no place around this school."
The announcement of Masson's addition to the part-time faculty came a few days after the psychoanalyst lost his libel suit against New Yorker magazine writer Janet Malcolm in a case that has had the journalistic and literary communities agog for months.
In a second trial of the $7-million damage suit, a San Francisco jury unanimously decided in favor of Malcolm. The case hinged on her alleged misquoting of Masson in a 1983 article about him. A jury last year voted for Masson on two of his five libel allegations but could not decide on damages.
An unsigned editorial in the student publication Rosebud described the appointment of Masson as a "disease known as star-fucking.
"The litigant in a nationally publicized libel case . . . is due to settle here amongst those aspiring journalists and discuss the ethos of journalism," the piece continued. "We would imagine that the requirements for teaching this class don't usually include psychoanalytic training or defamation lawsuits
. . . . "What's next? Ollie North teaching political reporting? Ivan Boesky teaching business reporting? Janet Cook . . . teaching sources and methods?"
Additionally, the editorial demanded to know Masson's salary, a question that also came up during E&P interviews with journalism students.
"We think star-fucking cheapens rather than enhances the piece of paper we get after two years," the editorial commented.
Goldstein, who will teach the course with Masson in January, replied in a letter to students, saying he had been "stung personally" by the editorial but was more distressed by its "ugly journalism."
The dean pointed out that Masson had been a guest lecturer at the school in the past and taught a course called "Media Harms" at the University of Michigan. He explained that when he teaches the ethics course one semester a year, he looks for colleagues "not like me" to share it with him.
"I usually pick someone whom I respect but do not necessarily agree with because that makes for livelier and more provocative discussions," the dean told students.
Noting that Rosebud is published by the school chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), Goldstein praised students for their initiative in sponsoring the newsletter but added: "Please, in the future, follow the very high-minded and appropriate principles set forth in SPJ's Code of Ethics. I enclose a copy."
In a subsequent meeting with students, Goldstein explained that, as dean, he is empowered to hire temporary outside teachers. He did not disclose Masson's salary but remarked: "We do not pay our outsiders nowhere near what they are worth and in somewhat different amounts."
Defending his hiring of Masson, Goldstein went on to say: "And I might add that, had I listened to initial reactions of students, some of the most beloved teachers at the school now just would not be here. We give people a chance to prove themselves."
"The meeting was very tense," recalled journalism major Patricia Sullivan. "That was too bad because I think graduate students should be able to adjust to this kind of situation."
Sullivan said she objected to Masson's joining the faculty but not on the grounds of his lawsuit.
"I just wonder what qualifies him to teach a journalism ethics course," she commented, "when his background is in science and Sanskrit [Masson has a doctorate in Sanskrit from Harvard and has written on the subject]."
Following the flap over the editorial, SPJ chapter president and Rosebud editor Jackie Spinner announced that the publication would discontinue running anonymous editorials. She also stated that opinions appearing in the newsletter do not necessarily reflect those of its editors, staff or the journalism school.
"It was a mistake for us to run this viewpoint without the author's name," Spinner wrote to readers. "But we did not err by publishing the viewpoint itself . . . . We had no ethical obligation to check with Dean Goldstein before the piece was published . . . . "
Describing Rosebud as a watchdog publication of the school's faculty, staff and administration, the editor declared: "We do not believe that any institution, including the Graduate School of Journalism, has the right to hold itself above the scrutiny of the press . . . . [W]e have done our profession proud."
In an interview, Spinner said students were mostly riled over the way Masson was hired.
"They want to know how this got through, without our being told about it," she elaborated. "There should be some accountability to students."
Spinner said that one positive result of the controversy is the fact that Goldstein has agreed to the formation of a faculty-student committee to discuss student grievances and other matters.
Another student, Sandra Madison, said she would have no objection to Masson being hired as a one-day guest speaker, but ruled him out as a regular lecturer.
An ethics course, she maintained, should be taught by someone with a journalism background.
She noted that her ethics class at Berkeley was taught by Larry Jinks, retired publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, who brought in other journalists as guest speakers.
Goldstein defended his appointment of Masson and said the course would be offered as planned.
In an interview, he said the ethics class would delve into journalistic reporting of private lives, "and I believe Jeff has a lot to offer in this area."
Of the Rosebud editorial, Goldstein said, "It would have been useful if they had talked to me first."
By: M.L. Stein student newsletter p. 12