Columbia University panel on Occupy, Tea Party was unbalanced affair, critic says

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Published October 12, 2012

| FoxNews.com

A panel at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism comparing the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements was stacked with liberal journalists who offered one-sided conclusions, according to one alumnus who attended the event.

Panelists at the event, which was held on Oct. 1 in the prestigious school’s Pulitzer Hall, made “little attempt to hide their sympathies” to the Occupy movement, author Harry Stein wrote in City Journal, a quarterly magazine published by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.

“Indeed, the only participant who seemed not to have come to his subject with an agenda was a New York Times Magazine contributor, Jonathan Mahler, included on the basis of a single piece he’d done on Oakland’s over-the-top-radical Occupy movement,” Stein wrote. “Little wonder that the event went exactly as expected.”

Stein told FoxNews.com he’s well aware of the “liberal, left-leaning” slant at the iconic journalism school, but said he was surprised that the panelists presented such “uniformity of opinion” given the controversial topics.

“I live in the real world,” Stein said Thursday. “I know about the orientation of the Columbia J-school.”

Todd Gitlin, a journalism professor and chair of Columbia's Ph.D. program, moderated the panel, which also included a writer for the Boston Phoenix, a reporter for NBCNews.com, a Ph.D. candidate from Harvard’s School of Government and a New York Times reporter.

Gitlin, who also wrote “Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street,” declined to comment when reached Thursday by FoxNews.com.

“You have nothing to do with news,” Gitlin said. “And you’re wasting my time.”

Chris Faraone, a Boston Phoenix staff writer who has written "99 Nights with the 99 Percent," told FoxNews.com Gitlin assembled an “incredibly competent” panel.

“The Tea Party and Occupy are complex and amorphous topics, and the range of new and interesting information shared by those of us who spoke that evening was astounding — even for me, and I've visited Occupy camps and groups in more than 25 cities, and even covered the Tea Party quite a bit (though I was not specifically brought to discuss the latter),” Faraone wrote in an email.

Faraone said he believes he was selected for the panel because his work at the alternative newspaper is “about as far from so-called mainstream reporting” as possible.

“While conservative imbeciles online and on the radio were inventing story lines about Occupiers — that they're ALL sporting iPhones and designer jeans, that every one of them is really rich and suburban — I was traveling across the country, meeting people, and actually listening to their stories,” Faraone’s email continued. “I covered a wide range of topics — from the good and hopeful to the extremely bad and ugly. As a result, I exchanged as many angry letters with Occupiers as I did with right-wing trolls.”

Faraone acknowledged Stein's right to criticize the panel, but said he doubted Stein could have found any other journalists “who did a fraction of the deep reporting” on either movement than any of the other panelists.

“My guess is that such a person doesn’t exist,” Faraone wrote.

Stein, meanwhile, recalled an email he sent to Gitlin prior to the panel suggesting that he include conservative historian Victor Davis Hanson or economist Thomas Sowell.

Miranda Leitsinger, a reporter at NBCNews.com who participated in the panel, declined to comment through a spokeswoman. Attempts to reach the other panelists, including Harvard’s Vanessa Williamson and Michael Greenberg of the New York Review of Books, were not successful.

Kate Zernike, a national correspondent for the New York Times and author of "Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America," denied being subjective about either group and suggested Stein was practicing "guilt by association." Zernike told FoxNews.com on Friday she tried to be fair to both movements and that she has always expressed respect for the Tea Party's methods.

"In fact, I think people would come away inspired by the Tea Partiers, because as I clearly said, they are dedicated and assiduous in their political activism, they truly mastered the art of door to door canvassing, following up by email and notes, in short, good old fashioned political grassroots activism,” Zernike wrote in an email. “I have said this over and over in every talk I have given; whether you agree with them or not, you have to respect their organizing skills."

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