‘Steward Throat’ wanted a media frenzy—and we gave it to him
What happened yesterday wasn’t news: It was sensationalism. Yesterday, student media bent to political pressure and needlessly stirred up controversy based on limited information aimed at tarnishing the reputation of a specific presidential candidate. The anonymous informant, “Steward Throat,” wanted to affect the campaign, and student media gave him the opportunity.
The first time “Steward Throat” contacted Vox was on Monday evening. With the subject line, “Urgent- Vox Article Information,” he said that he had information independently verifying the identities of several undergraduate members of the Stewards, among them a prominent GUSA presidential candidate.
The only reason he gave for coming forward was because he felt that “transparency and public disclosure of one’s associations benefits a productive campus dialogue and the interests of the campus community as a whole.” And he had a timeline: “Especially given that these details pertain to the upcoming GUSA presidential election, we believe action must be taken with utmost haste: within the next 24-48 hours.”
Vox asked to know who the informant was, and he responded Tuesday morning saying that he wouldn’t reveal his identity given the “factual and independently verifiable nature of the information.” While the tax form he revealed is publicly available, Vox still isn’t able to verify the authenticity of the email screenshots Steward Throat dumped: Emails can be faked; emails can be tampered with. Vox had no reason to believe the emails were accurate, especially given the informant’s anonymity and possible political motives.
Later that day, Steward Throat upped the pressure to publish by sending the information he would later dump on a blogspot account to the editors of both the Voice and The Hoya. After a few hours, he started posting on a linked Facebook account, which started to rapidly gain followers.
Steward Throat had clear political aims by forcing campus media to publish about the Stewards the day of the election. The candidate that stood to lose the most was Jack Appelbaum (COL ’14), whose membership in a secret society rumored to be elitist, corrupt, conservative, sexist, and homophobic would be a campaign liability—again, rumored to be all those things. The emails Steward Throat posted do not point to any wrongdoing and absolutely no one Vox talked to was willing to go on the record saying they’ve noticed any indication of Steward corruption.
Tuesday evening, Vox was hesitant to start organizing and writing a post because of just that—there was no evidence of wrongdoing. The emails only show that the Stewards still exist and that Jack Appelbaum and GUSA Chief of Staff Jake Sticka (COL ’13) are members. If anything, Vox was thinking of writing a post making fun of the society—for their self-important secrecy and their love of cufflinks, designer ties, and fine cigars. The emails show alumni offering internship opportunities—something any alumni group would do. Neither the emails nor the tax filings suggested any wrongdoing on the part of the Stewards, least of all anyone involved in GUSA campaigns.
The only email that suggested confirmation of any of the rumors—the emails in which a Steward disapproves of a perceived liberal slant in high school tours—was too incomplete to suggest a conservative conspiracy. In any case, Steward Throat would have an interest in including information that seemed to prove stereotypes.
Even so, Vox met with Jack Appelbaum Tuesday night and spoke about the matter. Vox didn’t want to publish anything till enough balanced reporting could be done—talking to members of the Stewards and acquiring information about the true workings of the society and talking to members of GUSA about whether any of the rumors are warranted.
Instead, Vox woke up and read The Hoya‘s article on the Stewards news. Essentially, it wrote that Jack Appelbaum is a Steward and gave campaigns’ reactions. GUSA executive candidates Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson (SFS ’14), Joe Vandegriff (COL ’14), Nate Tisa (SFS ’14), and Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14) chose to use the news as campaign tool, criticizing Appelbaum for his secrecy and suggesting wrongdoing, which is exactly what Steward Throat wanted them to do.
That article forced Vox‘s hand and the blog had a post up about the news by noon. Commenters lambasted Appelbaum for his secrecy and status as an insider—all based on hearsay and rumor. While the campaigns had backtracked by the time Vox asked for comments, the impression remained. Adam Ramadan even had to apologize once it came to light that he was a member of a separate secret society as well.
In the end, the Steward Throat achieved what he set out to do and tarnished the reputation of a campaign that had done nothing wrong. Appelbaum acted admirably given the unfair attention he was put in and did his best to minimize the damage. Student media gave Steward Throat that opening and shares in the responsibility. Georgetown deserves better reporting and cooler heads. If the frenzy yesterday affects the outcome of the election, it would be a victory for those who reject transparency and a disservice to Georgetown as a whole.
Photo: Tim Markatos/Georgetown Voice