The Clinton Contrversy

Front Page News?



UB has graced the cover of the Buffalo News twice in the last week and a half - and both stories afforded the university bad press. The latest story, however, demonstrates "bad press" on the part of the Buffalo News by providing a front-page example of poor journalism and an article which would be better fit for a gossip column than a hard news story.

The Sept. 6 Buffalo News article entitled "Rejection of Clinton as UB speaker Debated" describes a petty, primarily unsubstantiated internal argument between the administration and the Student Association - hardly a debate of the magnitude to warrant front-page coverage. The article states that SA leaders claim the administration vetoed their choice of Bill Clinton as a guest in the annual Distinguished Speakers Series because the former president is too controversial and could perhaps alienate the series' corporate sponsors.

In the article, SA President Christian Oliver and Vice President Joshua Korman claim both Dennis Black, vice president for student affairs, and President Greiner indicated in separate 'informal' encounters that Clinton is too controversial to participate in the series. Dennis Black declined to comment on why Mr. Clinton was not invited to speak this year and President Greiner claimed to have "no recollection" of discussing the series with the student leaders.

The result? A "we said, they said" battle between SA and the administration based entirely on conjecture and hearsay, not substantive facts corroborated by specific quotes or verifiable information. Regardless of the underlying truth or falsity of SA's claim, the issue clearly does not constitute headline news, and only serves to publicize what should have remained an internal affair. In the article, both the administration and SA are poorly represented. The administration comes across as less than candid, suggesting a conspiratorial exclusion of the former U.S. president from campus, while SA is portrayed as whining finger-pointers who are bitter that their first choice for a speaker was passed over.

Such intense coverage can only serve to exacerbate relations between SA and the administration - a relationship which is crucial to accomplishing many of the goals set forth by the Student Association. While Korman and Oliver may have a valid complaint with the administration's treatment of their speaker selection, they must choose their battles wisely, so as not to alienate the administration unnecessarily.

As for the merits of the issue, Clinton would have been an interesting - and probably popular - addition to the Distinguished Speakers Series. However, it is questionable whether the ex-president would be worth his exorbitant $125,000 speaking fee. More than likely, his speech would be entirely uncontroversial. Mr. Clinton is not known for his candor and is unlikely to shed light on his presidency, which has already been over-covered by political commentators, historians and the president himself. With his autobiography on its way, Mr. Clinton surely would not reveal his soul prematurely or exclusively to the UB population.

While the debate over Clinton's inclusion in or exclusion from the series - and the reasons for such a decision - provide an interesting topic for dinner-time conversation or Student Union speculation, it hardly warrants the publicity generated by the Buffalo News. The news' interest in UB's affairs is to be commended, but the university and the newspaper's readership would be better served by substantive news, a phenomenon which clearly is not lacking in a university of this size.