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Freedom of the press does not include the freedom to slander

Initially, I did not feel it was necessary to respond to the ludicrous accusations made by Steven D. Penn G in the March 2 issue of The Tech ["Thistle distribution hit by another attack"]. However, I do feel that it is my responsibility to inform readers of the unprofessional and malicious tactics utilized by "journalists" such as him.

On the day the Residence/Orientation Week issue of The Thistle came out, I happened to be walking through Lobby 7. A group of women and men, a few of whom I knew, were gathered on the side. I joined them and proceeded to listen to their complaints against the Thistle articles which they felt were offensive and sexist. They were so angered that they felt the issues should be taken off the stand. Individuals proceeded to dispose of the paper of their own volition, but I neither supported nor encouraged such a demonstration.

I did not think twice about the incident until six months later when I was dragged out of bed around 1:30 am Friday morning to answer a phone call from The Tech. They informed me of the story they were printing and asked me for my comments. I was shocked that anyone could fathom such actions from me. I realized, as most people did, that I was singled out as a result of the person I was dating at the time. Furthermore, I and everyone I knew was disgusted by the sexist implication that my actions could ever be dictated by my boyfriend.

The Thistle claims to be a legitimate paper trying to broaden the horizons of the MIT community by informing them of what's really going on. Yet, if Steve Penn's accusations are any indication of the manner in which The Thistle reports its stories, then I truly feel sorry for him and the audience he reaches. I believe in freedom of speech as guaranteed by the Constitution; however, the right to express one's opinions does not in any way include the right to print outright lies. Rather, Penn's accusations fall under the definition of slander -- a false report maliciously uttered intending to injure the reputation of a person.

The author from The Tech, Prabhat Mehta '91, is not exempt from criticism either. His willingness to print an unsubstantiated story based on one person's opinion is inexcusable. As a journalist, he has a responsibility to his audience to investigate his stories and present the truth so as to allow people to make their own intelligent decisions about them. If a friend of mine had not been on The Tech, I never would have been contacted to deny the story.

I adamantly believe, as The Tech so eloquently states, that "MIT must be a forum of ideas," and that we should take a stand against intolerance. Unfortunately, malicious and false stories such as this one fail to convince anyone of these principles. They only demonstrate the lack of respect people have for their fellow students. I hope incidents such as this one will be avoided in the future.

Maria Trinidad Arriola '90->