Reflecting on Truth, Power and Sexual Misconduct

Posted by Scott McClellan on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 at 8:57 AM PDT

Several thoughts have been running through my head as I reflect more deeply on the feature piece from last Thursday’s The Spectator, the final edition of the academic year. Let me briefly cover three.

One thought is are we doing all we can, as best we can to address sexual misconduct? It is a serious issue that has been receiving unprecedented attention this past year. That is a good thing. We, as a university community, have a special obligation to use the increased attention and awareness as a force for good when it comes to addressing violence, harassment, discrimination and stalking. We, as a Catholic and Jesuit university, have an even greater responsibility to continue reconciling the Church’s horrid past on sexual misconduct with healing and compassion for survivors and an unyielding commitment to combating sexual abuse and violence to make sure it is never again repeated.

There is always more we can and must do—and we are learning from our students as much as we are from each other as we go about this important work.

I am grateful for the team of professionals and experts across our faculty, staff, administration and Jesuit community who have been facing and addressing these issues for many years—particularly since the scandal within the Catholic Church was exposed by The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight Investigation: Abuse in the Catholic Church” in 2002. These colleagues are good people committed to doing their jobs as best they can, as are our trustees. Many of us are parents of young children and have born witness to and shared in the pain of a loved one who has experienced sexual misconduct in various shapes and forms.

A second thought revolves around truth and power. Speaking truth to power and truth about power is something our Jesuit education calls our students to have the courage to do. We won’t get to a more just and humane world without courageous changemakers. How best and most effectively to go about it in order to be a force for good is a learning process, one that must always be rooted in honesty, integrity, ethics and, perhaps more importantly than ever in this Age of Trump, facts.

I’ve been down the truth-to-power road before in my own small way. It is not easy. There are risks and consequences. No doubt our student reporters were seeking to do right and risk the consequences.

Which brings me to the third thought. If you are going to speak truth to power in hopes of making a positive and lasting difference, getting it right in terms of accuracy, facts and context is essential. This holds true especially on an issue of such gravity and consequence as sexual misconduct.

Unfortunately, the student reporters fell short in this regard in their feature on sexual misconduct. I was surprised by the multiple inaccuracies, omission of facts and quotes taken out of context.

In recent weeks, some of the very same student journalists did a great job reporting in support of our LGBTQ+ community—it was powerful and persuasive. I personally commended them for their reporting.

Over the course of the past few days, however, I have asked for them to be accountable for this most recent feature on sexual misconduct and their own journalistic shortcomings. I appreciate the corrections they have issued and the removal of the three lead paragraphs in the online version, which contained at least three demonstrably false pieces of information. Although I am not sure the corrections and updates fully meet what is called for under journalistic standards, it was an important step.

If we are to have honest conversation on these issues, we need to do so based on accurate information, facts and context and do due diligence to avoid innuendo, insinuation and painting with so broad a brush as to unintentionally tarnish reputations of good people.

I believe the student journalists will learn from this episode and exercise greater care and professionalism in the future, just as I know I will continue reflecting on how we, as a university, can do more to address the important topics they have had the courage to tackle. To those Spectator reporters who are graduating this week, I wish you well knowing you will go on speaking truth to power and comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable as you pursue careers in journalism. To those Spectator reporters who are continuing their studies, I look forward to learning with and from you.