I’ve not said anything in this space about the FBR protests and the news that was made about the back-and-forth with the Brown & White. Mostly I haven’t been wanting to add heat to an already hot situation. Needless to say, all parties have had much to talk about.

I really don’t want to comment much on FBR’s message. That’s their job and, to the degree that I think I understand their mission, I support their cause.

I’m a media scholar, though, and I have more to say about the FBR vs. Brown & White argument.

A thought occurred today and I’ll say it simply: What these groups are arguing about tends to be more about a clash of duty than it is about who is right or wrong.

FBR’s duty, best as I can tell, is to try and change the culture by speaking out for itself. They use the term “speaking with our own voice” a lot, and that seems to lend itself to the conclusion that they believe a fair hearing of their grievances and goals requires they communicate directly – without filter, and in their own words. Their goals and process by definition require a certain form of communicating. Fair enough.

The Brown & White’s duty is to be the eyes and ears of the campus. It is a proxy for a large community, and its role is to ask the hard question, gather basic facts, and help the community understand things. Its goal is not to take a side, which means that it represents differing points of view. It is an advocate for fostering a discussion among a diverse community with differing perspectives, not to attach itself to any movement (even one whose cause is noble). Most notably, its job is to hold people accountable, and that requires independence.

It should be fairly obvious that these duties are in conflict. It doesn’t mean that either group should change for the other as a matter of principle. It’s possible one duty is more important or one belief is more right than the other. But it means that a clash is necessary until the groups at least understand the other group’s duty as well as it understands its own. In that moment, they might find ways to bend a bit toward one another.

And in the absence of bending, here is the strongest stance I’ll take on the subject: believing in your duty does not require delegitimizing another’s duty. Believing in something does not preclude respecting others’ views. To the people on both sides of the argument who’ve been living this principle out, you have my admiration.

In some ways, it’s tragic the student newspaper is part of this story. But once you look at duty, it’s hard to see this as anything but inevitable at the outset. Talking and understanding (on both sides) is the only way to solve it.

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A tale of two duties
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