Why we didn’t run the Sigma Phi Epsilon story

Why we didn’t run the Sigma Phi Epsilon story

Why we didn’t run the Sigma Phi Epsilon story
July 21
17:08 2015

The Editorial Board

We were surprised when we read the ThinkProgress story detailing the hazing and alleged maltreatment of Derek Elrod by fraternity members of Sigma Phi Epsilon. Before ThinkProgress ran this story, the North Texas Daily had it in March 2015, but we chose not to run it.

Elrod came to our editor at the time with the same information he gave ThinkProgress, including the video and resentment toward Greek Life. We spent weeks reaching out to SigEp national officials, UNT administrators, the police and gathered documents for publication.

In interactions with Elrod, the editors began to question his motives and wonder why he wanted to come out to the news media about his mistreatment two years after the fact. We moved with caution, yet were inching toward publication until Elrod called our editor, telling her he feared for his life and that his father had advised him to urge us not to run it.

In an editorial decision that we still stand by, our editor gave the final word: the story was dead.

Fast forward to July. Elrod has made an about-face, and ThinkProgress ran the article, another unbalanced bodyslam attempt on fraternities.

There are a few things we want you all to know, key facts missing from the ThinkProgress story; facts editors debated in preparation for publication.

The first is that Elrod was not hazed because they believed he was gay. Elrod told us the fraternity members made no indication they were singling him out for his sexual orientation at any time during the alleged hazing.

The clickbait premise of the article is this fraternity’s leadership at the time was homophobic and that was the reason Elrod was hazed and eventually asked to leave. But consider the following:

“I think they’re a homophobic fraternity,” Elrod told us back in March. “But the actual homophobia did not play a role in what we had to go through [the hazing].”

But, to be fair, the fraternity president at the time, Richard Randall, did say to the police —  as purported in the dash camera footage — that SigEp members did acknowledge Elrod possibly being gay, and were weirded out. And that homophobia is not acceptable, but Elrod told us the hazing was not specifically pointed at him, and it wasn’t because they believed he was gay. He got a bid, after all.

What’s more, is the hazing was equitable. All of the pledges — as both Elrod and Randall said — were forced to perform this ritual. ThinkProgress wrote as if Elrod was being forced to do pushups by himself. And that’s simply not the case.

Elrod said he suffers from a neurological disorder which caused him to have intense physical pain and an anxiety attack during the physical activities of the hazing ritual, which is understandable. And that is what this story is actually about, but we know Elrod did not inform SigEp leadership of his disorder before those physical activities, creating unfair ground for Greek Life in this situation.

“You’re trying to get a bid,” Elrod told editors. “You don’t want to start talking about medical problems. That’s super awkward.”

As students and critics of the press, we combine our suspicions of Elrod with our editorial skepticism of ThinkProgress and remain satisfied that we did not run the story.

That is not to say hazing and abuse within Greek Life is not a big deal, but in this specific instance, it should not receive special treatment. It’s been a long two years, and though homophobia is wrong, editors must take accountability for being complete in their reporting.

Featured Photo | Denton Police Department

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1 Comment

  1. Andy
    Andy August 05, 13:25

    ThinkProgress is bad journalism … just like the term “homophobia.”

    Sorry this happened to your staff, though. You’re wise to question motives when the goal is to shame rather than inform.

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