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The Thistle's real bias

Everybody loves a good hack. But don't you think that two parodies of the Thistle within a week is a little much?

The Thistle hack that came out on Wednesday looked exactly like a real Thistle and everything. The giveaway, for me at least, was the front page. A lame story about rush week rules and a lamer story about, of all things, the state of the Tech opinion page.

Ludicrous? Sure it is, but it's a hack. It doesn't seem very funny, though.


I think it might actually be a real issue of the Thistle. How embarrassing. The ultimate example of the decline of our favorite left-wing paper.I now write this column knowing that within days crack Thistle analyzers will be picking it apart, word by word, and feeding it into a data bank somewhere.

I enjoyed reading the Thistle's recent analysis of The Tech's opinion pages quite a bit. I've been one of the opinion editors for nearly a year now, and being judged on "sensitivity" by the Thistle feels a little like having Richard Nixon chair an ethics investigation into your work. Just wait; I'll get around to explaining what I mean by that.

The Thistle has declined noticeably since I arrived at MIT, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the Thistle enjoyed an awfully long stay as the new kids on the block. Now, however, they find themselves in the position of the "old" political journal in town. Where at one time they provided, at the least, comedic entertainment for their radicalism, now The Analyst is available. Whether you agree with The Analyst or not (I generally don't), you have to admit that it's much better as pure entertainment.

The Thistle, once a decent political journal, has now reduced itself to writing two-and-a-half page stories about rush rules in which all of the quotes come from two sources. (Not to mention that the story is supposed to be part one of-- gasp -- a three-part series. This goes beyond beating a dead horse. These folks are pounding on the poor pony.)

And so readership of the Thistle has declined to nil; standing in Lobby 7 for fifteen minutes Wednesday morning, it was sad to watch people look at the newsstands to see which paper was out, see that it was the Thistle, and walk away.

However, there is a much more serious issue at hand. I've been hearing about some serious problems at the Thistle. It all started last year, when two former Thistle staffers called me to tell me what had been going on in the Thistle's office. They wanted to explain why they had left that fine publication.

Jenn Huang '90 and a friend, Josh Freeze '92, came to me disillusioned with the ideal espoused by the Alternative News Collective. The Collective proudly states in the Thistle mast that it will not print "any piece which it considers racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, or advocating prejudice or exploitative action of one person or people against another." An admirable ideal, but one which, apparently, the ANC honors only on the printed page.

Huang claims that a certain member of the group began making comments to her which she considered sexist. They were jokes of the "-er" variety, such as "Fiddler on the roof? But I just met her." (You have to say it out loud to get it. When you're through laughing heartily, continue reading.)

Two other females in the group agreed with Huang. They went to Steve Penn G to tell him they found these comments sexist and they wanted someone to talk to the offending party. They were beginning to feel uncomfortable around the Thistle office because of the comments.

Although the ANC is also proud of its loose structure, with decisions being made by "a consensus of all members," this system does not seem to really exist. Huang and Freeze call Penn the "benign dictator of the Thistle." They speak of his unofficial "veto" power over all decisions of the ANC.

Steve decided that the entire Thistle staff needed to go on a retreat. (Sounds like a priest I once knew. Whenever there was a problem, he'd say, "Let's retreat!") Each person packed his or her bags, and they all left campus.

The weekend away was, I suppose, less than a smashing success. "The retreat was a 24-hour fight," Huang said, "The women spent the whole weekend crying, and the men banded together."

Penn and Archon Fung G stood by the man making the comments, with long-time member Fung claiming he would leave if the offending party was asked to leave. Fung, whose output has ranged from sensationalism (the infamous story in the rush '89 issue about a behind-the-scenes look at fraternity rush) to banality (the recent statistical analysis of Tech opinion pages) is one of the cornerstones of the ANC, a fraternity member himself during his MIT undergraduate years. He has since used the pages of the Thistle to discuss the horrors of his former frat life, such as pornography in the bathroom. (No!)

Next, according to Huang, Penn tried to compromise. True to his belief in "free love," Penn told Huang that the man making the rude comments just needed to be loved. I originally thought that Penn must have meant love in the romantic sense, but that was apparently not how Huang or Freeze interpreted the reference. "In other words," Freeze said, giving his interpretation of Penn's words, "f**k [name deleted] and he'll get better."

Not surprisingly, women started to leave the ANC.

First, Penn tried a compromise. Penn, according to Huang, wanted to make deals where the man in question wouldn't be allowed to work for a certain number of issues. Huang and the other women involved found this unacceptable, because the man might return to the Thistle and continue to make them uncomfortable. They wanted him to stop making rude comments. For his own part, the accused continued to insist that he wasn't sexist, and that he was "on their side."

Huang and her friends didn't buy it. They left the ANC. They were even joined by some men, including Freeze.

Penn, says Huang, went to Wellesley to recruit women. After all, it would look pretty bad if an organization which frequently claims to be feminist lost most of its female members.

The man who made the offending comments continued to work at the Thistle. Penn could not be reached for comment at press time. I did manage to reach Archon Fung, however. I explained the story to him. There was a pause, and then he said, "No comment. That's an internal Thistle matter. No comment."

The whole thing really bothers me. I've been sitting on this story for a while, not sure what to do with it. This is, after all, the same group of people which often appoints itself as the judge and jury for politically correct behavior on campus.

If, in a group such as the ANC, a woman finds such a lack of sympathy when confronted with something that makes her uncomfortable, then where do women find support? If the organizations which supposedly promote female empowerment make some female members uncomfortable, what does that say about the state of female empowerment in our society?

I believe that Jenn Huang felt uncomfortable at the Thistle office, and that her requests for change fell on curiously deaf ears. No matter what the complaint, I find it amazing that the ANC would be so numb to this woman's obvious discomfort that she would have to leave. I am convinced that there are some prejudices at the Thistle. The Thistle's claims to be fighting injustices such as sexism only makes these prejudices more dangerous.

I am still stunned that such occurrences can take place in organizations with such high ideals. Perhaps by bringing such incidents to light, we can do something about them. Perhaps not. But when the Thistle staff brags of their "bias," I hope this isn't what they mean.


Tech Opinion Editor Bill Jackson '93 thinks that this column may keep him from being invited to the next Thistle retreat.