For three days last week, the face of Wharton senior and former Interfraternity Council President Christian Lunoe monopolized the front page of The Daily Pennsylvanian. We learned that he’d been arrested, and learned the next day that he was considering resigning from the IFC. We learned again when he did resign, and even — bizarrely — learned how he felt about it on Twitter.
By Friday, we’d learned more about Lunoe than almost any undergraduate in recent DP history. And by Friday, a lot of us were still wondering why he’d received so much attention in the first place. A student’s reputation had been permanently damaged, but it didn’t really seem warranted or deserved.
Lunoe hadn’t been involved in a fight and he didn’t start a fire in a high rise. He hadn’t been charged with a felony, and there was no reason to believe he’d placed students in danger. Police allege he’d been found with an alcohol-filled hydration packet and was uncooperative when escorted from the Penn-Princeton game. He’d been charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and obstruction of justice: not exactly capital crimes and not exactly Pulitzer-worthy news.
Yet, the DP stuck to the story like Watergate. This newspaper successfully transformed this incident into a series of sensational, front-page articles. The intensity of the DP’s coverage may have helped cause further events to unfold — in turn, creating the opportunity for still more bold-faced headlines. It was a story that fed itself.
According to Lunoe, he could hardly believe it when he woke up Tuesday to find his picture plastered on the front page of several thousand newspapers. He could believe it even less when he was informed that the DP would be running another article on Wednesday and when a reporter asked “if he was surprised that the story had gotten so big.”
In his words, “The DP had made this a major headline, and now they wanted me to comment about what a big deal it had turned into — as if they weren’t the ones responsible for making it that way in the first place.”
Of course, there were legitimate reasons for the DP’s treatment of Lunoe. “Running this story fit our mission in serving the public interest,” College senior and DP Executive Editor Rachel Baye said. “Our goals were to clear up rumors and let people know who their leaders really are. When a leader gets arrested like this, it affects the entire community he represents.”
That said, the act of serving the public interest can be a pretty subjective business. When a newspaper decides which stories to follow — or which stories to feature on its front page for three days in one week — it wields a power far beyond the reporting of fact.
We’ll never know exactly what happened between Lunoe and the police. But thousands of us now know that he was charged with two misdemeanors. We’ve seen his picture below a headline of “IFC president arrested at Princeton,” and witnessed a publicly aired resignation. Regardless of Lunoe’s guilt or innocence, the worst damage has already been done.
And it was damage done not by authorities or administrators, but by fellow students. For all its reputation and prestige, the DP is still an extracurricular activity. It is not The New York Times. The DP’s writers and editors, like all undergraduates at Penn, are here to put in their four years before going on to bigger and better things.
Unfortunately, the content these undergraduates produce doesn’t disappear upon graduation. It will remain for many years to come, to be accessed by friends, family and — yes — future employers.
Thanks in large part to the DP, Lunoe has gone through too much for too little. This newspaper overstepped its bounds in its treatment of a fellow student. It should not do so again.
Emerson Brooking is a College senior from Turnerville, Ga., and a member of the Undergraduate Assembly. His e-mail address is brooking@theDP.com Southern Comfort appears on alternate Tuesdays.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.