What in the Heck is Going on in the Hatchet Opinions Pages?

Something is going on in the GW Hatchet opinions section.

For those who don’t frequent the Hatchet website, or who don’t regularly visit the forums of GW political-memes, an article was published in the Hatchet’s Opinions section titled “Conservative students at GW must re-evaluate their beliefs.” The article, penned by Naseem Othman, is exactly what it sounds like.

Othman asserted that, “we need for conservatives to be called on to re-evaluate their political views and actions” and that “conservatives should attend a general body meeting of a more leftist-leaning student group to learn more.” He pointed out to the GW student body that he felt conservative beliefs, at their core, intentionally harm people of color, people with student loans, and people with private health insurance. He argued that because conservative students have access to things like the library and wifi, they “should use their privilege, time and resources at GW to re-evaluate their political beliefs.”

It read a bit like one of my favorite articles by the satirical news outlet The Onion titled “When Will The Idiots On The Other End Of The Political Spectrum Wake Up And Have Every One Of My Life Circumstances, Daily Interactions, And Upbringing?” An article that produced a quote like, “Listen, if you’re not willing to take the time to grow up in the same part of the country I did, in the same kind of home, as part of the same racial and religious groups, and with the same amounts of good and bad luck I’ve experienced over the years, then I’m sorry, but you’re always going to be wrong.”

This Hatchet opinions article requires a response, right? Luckily for us, GW student Abigail Marone responded with her own letter to the editor titled “Liberal students at GW must re-evaluate their behavior” in which she uses Othman’s piece as fodder for the ongoing conservative talking points about liberals stifling open dialogue on campus. She was even invited to speak on Fox News’ Fox and Friends to talk about the op-ed and her letter to the editor.

But what Marone and Othman both miss is that the problem is not the dialogue, or the stances themselves. The problem is the fact that these articles were published to begin with.

I actually agree with Othman’s assertions about how conservative policies hurt marginalized groups, and that conservatives–based on the policies they support–seemingly don’t really care about people of color or poor people. But this article was not the right way to go about making his point.

I, and I imagine many others, would be hard-pressed to find an instance where someone convinced somebody else to turn their back on their entire worldview in 1,000 words online. Anyone who understands basic political communications, ideological tribalism, backfire effect, or simply how to be persuasive knows that calling your opponents “ignorant” and literally demanding they completely change their mind is never going to work on anyone. Which leads me to ask: was Othman just creating a spectacle, or did he genuinely think this article would amount to anything but a right-wing talking point? And why did the Hatchet’s editors even allow this, and the response piece, to be published at all?

Opinions pages should be the place we go to hear out people who have a solid assertion to make; writers who have crafted an argument and are making a real attempt to persuade you, not alienate you. Ideology should be an element of the case you are making, not the entire case itself.

Unfortunately, the op-ed is now a lost art to most journalistic publications. With our hyper-partisan political climate and growing rejection of compromise, op-ed pages around the country have gone from discussing to yelling to high-pitched screeching.

And in an age where we choose media that only affirms our beliefs and makes us feel comfortable, the editorial pages are supposed to be the only place in any newspaper where good arguments of all perspectives can be seen and heard; where one school of political thought could be seen residing comfortably next to another, completely different ideology. That includes here at GW.

The Hatchet serves a vital role on GW’s campus as the school’s long-standing news outlet and an established public forum for students to engage our university and community. The good people at the Hatchet can and should do better than this.

Articles like Othman’s and a letter like Marone’s–who got front-page web space–only serve to suck the oxygen out of the rest of the entire opinions section. Thoughtful articles about how we can be better as students and a university, like Marin Christensen’s op-ed, “My disability was ignored for six years – It’s time to listen” or Eric Teller’s piece, “University should ban research funding from anti-environmental companies,” should not have to suffer a lack of attention because we are occupied by the back and forth mudslinging of pure ideologues.

I’m eager to chalk this ordeal up to an impassioned freshmen student ready to take a stand on what he believes in and an editing team willing to let people express themselves. But the Hatchet should take its own stand, and show a willingness to preserve the seriousness and efficacy of good rhetorical argument and the careful curation of thought in the media.

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