What An Opportunity

Twisted politicans, even on the smallest scale

In Culture, Life on April 11, 2012 at 5:45 pm

"We're honest, I swear."

I often struggle with defining the line between student journalist and actual journalist. Oftentimes student journalists – those writing for collegiate newspapers – interpret their perceived credentials, which are in reality not legitimate journalistic credentials, as a license for arrogance, while the real journalists – those writing for a local daily or, in some cases, a national paper – tend to be more grounded. After all, it’s our job to tell other peoples’ stories. They’re the ones doing great things, not us. We just put it on paper.

I promise I’m going somewhere with this. It’s not a rant or personal “dear diary, this was my day” story. Just bear with me.

I’m currently the Senior Life Editor of the University at Buffalo’s independent student newspaper, The Spectrum, and I’ll be the 2012-13 Editor in Chief. The newspaper is easily the biggest in the SUNY system, publishing 7,000 copies three times a week, and has won three prestigious national awards so far this year.

With that in mind, I guarantee if you surveyed 100 students on campus, at least 60 would say: “The Spectrum sucks.” I think I’ve finally accepted that nothing will reverse the negative stigma, so I’m not complaining, just trying to set the stage: this campus is notorious for students’ apathy. It’s not cool to like your student newspaper, or to care about much of anything UB does (other than the occasional bad concert lineup) for that matter.

This is an unfounded belief, but I have a sense that this I-don’t-care attitude is prevalent on many other U.S. campuses.

So once in a while (not often, as most students just glance at the giant stack of papers in the Student Union and keep walking), The Spectrum gets attention. In today’s paper, there is a detailed investigation of the Student Association – UB’s elected undergrad student government – and its treasurer’s apparent attempt to embezzle $300,000 of student funds. Serious foul just in theory, but especially when you follow through and your plan is so poorly-formed that you get caught red-handed.

http://www.ubspectrum.com/news/sa-scandal-there-s-no-app-for-that-1.2844460#.T4XUN1GXTOl

The weirdest part of this madness is that the SA President had no idea what was going on. The treasurer and VP signed the contract, behind the president’s back and after she’d said she was against it, with what looks like a fake company (if you read the story you’ll see a ton of crazy connections that indicate this whole thing was a giant scam put in place by the treasurer and some of his friends, all UB alums – none of this is proven, but they’ve all lawyered up). It looks like (again, not yet proven) he was trying to take some student funds – money added to undergrad tuition – to put in his own pocket and possibly pay for law school. Strange as this is, every time I talked with the treasurer in the past – even on the record – he repeatedly said: “I am dishonest. You can’t trust me.” Ironic, considering he was so upfront and honest about his dishonesty. It was like he was proud of it.

At this point, an informed UB student would go “daaaaayum.” But on the real, students will probably glance at the story, think “he took my money? that’s dumb,” and forget about it in a day. Frustrating but likely.

Anyway, here’s the real objective of this post, and I applaud you for making it this far: late last night (I think it’s safe to say pursuit of this story made almost every editor lose sleep at some point), as we were putting the final touches on several weeks of intense reporting and writing, Senior News Editor Luke Hammill made a judicious point. “The crazy thing about all this,” he quietly laughed, “is that this is just UB. Imagine the stuff real politicians do.”

What an interesting theory: If people are corrupt at this level, just imagine the kind of unethical, undivulged nonsense that goes on regionally, state-wide, nationally. Is there a line between student politicians and bona fide politicians? Or all they all corrupt?

I realize this isn’t a bold epiphany for most, but it never really hit me until now: the vast majority of politicians are crazy, dishonest, and immoral. You must sell your soul pretty far down the river to deceive so many people.

– A.C.M.

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  1. I don’t believe that all politicians are corrupt (my sister-in-law who serves on the Portland, OR city council, for one) but there is a tremendous opportunity for corruption in our elected positions. The problem, whether it be in your observations on campus or in society at large, is the apathy and disinterest, or the closed-minded passion with which we choose our leaders. Too often we fail to choose the best leaders, becasue we lack the determination to be truly educated voters. Then, when the weak or corrupt are in office we shake our heads and tsk, tsk, tsk, failing to recognize that too often it was our failure to properly vet the candiates before they went into office that put them in that position. So I do think you are fundamentally wrong in your assertion that the role of campus journalists is somehow inferior to that of “real” journalists. In either case, the community needs to be well informed. We rely on our journalists to give us the truth so that we can make judgements that are in line with our values. That’s the problem with partisan “news” outlets like FOX or MSNBC: their reporting of the facts is always delivered through a thick fog of ideology.

    By the way, you guys must have had some awesom English teachers along the way!

  2. I have to disagree in part, Rev. Fritz. As a rule, I think college students are condescending to their fellow students who are journalists. I know the dismissive attitude that exists here at ND toward our Observer is the same as what you described at UB, Aaron. I think college students on the whole are arrogant about their own intelligence, so we destroy the idea of a peer being able to inform or educate us. In that sense, I think campus journalists are indeed at a disadvantage when compared to career journalists.

  3. “The Spectrum sucks” was a popular phrase when I was there in the late 70’s, and probably well before that. It means absolutely nothing.

    As for politicians, it’s is very difficult (though not impossible) to even get started, much less elected at any level without being well down the road to perdition.

  4. I think, what I meant to say was that journalists, whether on campus or off, are often not well respected by the masses. Take a look at the beating reporters take in response to their articles at Buffalonews.com. There’s not a day that goes by without somebody shooting down the “Buffalosnews” or whatever. And I think we do that to our detriment. We then only listen to the “reporters” who slant the news in the direction we already lean. This only serves to reinforce, rather than challenge, our biases and prejudices. We need strong, independent reporters to help us face the truth. And we are in just as serious a need of them in the public as we are on campus.

  5. I just watched a documentary about lobbyist Jack Abramoff today so I can definitely sympathize with your indignation. It seems almost natural to assume that politicians are corrupt, but finding out the details of specific cases really makes me mad.

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