New York Times reporter Richard Perez-Pena wrote Tuesday about the low-brow fight that's broken out online between high-brow Columbia University and the women's college it's affiliated with, Barnard, over President Obama's politically motivated decision to speak at Barnard's commencement in May. Another wrinkle: Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson was the original graduation speaker at the women's school, but was bumped when Obama big-footed the invitation.
Nearly everyone interviewed said the choice of Barnard made political sense for a Democratic president, dependent on women’s votes and running for re-election, at a time when his party is accusing Republicans of a war on women and access to birth control has become a national issue.
Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, was the scheduled speaker, and agreed to take a rain check (another source of irritation for some students, who said that a women’s school, of all places, should not have bumped a woman in favor of a man, whether or not he happens to be commander in chief).
Given that Abramson has a well-documented liberal bent, the question becomes: Have media-watchers been derived of a liberal rant on the scale of some of the Times's previous graduation speakers? It's stiff competition.
Former Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse informed students in her June 2006 speech at Harvard that "...our government had turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law and toward creating law-free zones at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and other places around the world. And let's not forget the sustained assault on women's reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism."
Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., in his May 21, 2006 address to the State University of New York at New Paltz, apologized on behalf of his generation: "It wasn't supposed to be this way. You weren't supposed to be graduating in an America fighting a misbegotten war in a foreign land. You weren't supposed to be graduating into a world where we are still fighting for fundamental human rights, be it the rights of immigrants to start a new life, the right of gays to marry or the rights of women to choose....where oil still drives policy and environmentalists have to relentlessly fight for every gain. You weren't. But you are and I am sorry for that."
Former reporter Christopher Hedges alienated so many graduates with a May 2003 speech at Rockford College in Rockford, Ill. that his mike was cut off: "Thank you very much. I want to speak to you today about war and empire. The killing, or at least the worst of it, is over in Iraq, although blood will continue to spill, theirs and ours; be prepared for this. For we are embarking on an occupation that if history is any guide will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige and power and security. But this will come later, our empire expands and in all this we become pariahs, tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. Isolation always impairs judgment, and we are very isolated now. We have forfeited the good will, the empathy the world felt for us after 9-11, we have folded in on ourselves. We have severely weakened the delicate international coalitions and alliances that are vital in maintaining and promoting peace, and we are part now of a dubious troika in the war against terror with Vladimir Putin and Ariel Sharon, two leaders who do not shrink in Palestine or Chechnya from carrying out acts of gratuitous and senseless violence."