Exposing your employer to a libel lawsuit is a bad idea

Note: I submitted this letter to the editor to the IDS last week.

Sarah Kissel’s editorial about the “mattress girl” case left a lot to be desired, and exposes both her and the Indiana Daily Student to a possible libel lawsuit. It was a reckless editorial that should have been thought about and edited more carefully.

By describing Emma Sulkowicz as a “rape survivor,” Kissel declares that there is a rapist, and that alleged rapist is Paul Nungesser. There are serious questions about Sulkowicz’ allegations, given the information that has been exposed in the months since Sulkowicz started carrying her mattress around campus like Jesus bearing His cross. It is worth noting that not only did law enforcement decline to prosecute Nungesser, but the university disciplinary hearing that operated under a much lower evidentiary standard also found him not responsible for sexual assault.

You can see several articles on this case here:

Keep in mind that universities nationwide have been under pressure from the federal government for several years now to take allegations of rape seriously, and keep in mind that Columbia is not exactly a hotbed of patriarchal thought. Why did Sulkowicz continue to exchange friendly messages with Nungesser after he supposedly brutally anally raped her? Is it significant at all that the other allegations against Nungesser have also been found to be not credible despite the national spotlight that is shining on Columbia?

A basic tenet of journalism is that, unless someone has been found guilty of a crime, journalists are not to write of the accused as if they were guilty. The fact that this was an opinion column and not a straight news story does not change that standard. By writing her column as if Nungesser is clearly guilty, Kissel has written something that is potentially libelous. Given that Nungesser could sue both Kissel and the IDS as a result of this column, more careful consideration should have been given this column by the opinion editor.

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