The most visible problem with Isla Vista is the Santa Barbara News-Press’ coverage of it. In a series of biased and erroneous stories, the paper has portrayed our town as a swill bucket brimming over with dangerous, drunken degenerates.
A lot was missing from these stories about I.V. Facts, fair comment and other basic tenets of journalism were checked at the News-Press’ door this June.
The worst article, “Isla Vista: Has Something Gone Seriously Wrong in This College Town?” (Dawn Hobbs, News-Press, June 16), blames I.V. and its “raunchy party scene” for every tragedy and brawl in the last six months. Every person with a beer cup is responsible for David Attias allegedly killing four people with his car, two people falling off the cliffs and dying, fistfights, and the torture and sexual abuse of a UCSB freshman last September.
Attias is not a symbol of an out-of-control Isla Vista, especially since the News-Press defines I.V.’s problem as a “raunchy party scene.” Attias’ blood test showed trace amounts of marijuana and lidocaine and no alcohol. Attias and the four people who died are not symbols – they are part of an inexplicable tragedy.
The News-Press never compared the two cliff deaths, in number or nature, to past years. If these deaths are proof of a town gone wrong, it would have been nice if the News-Press could show that, instead of saying so.
When the article brought up a “spate of recent assaults,” it should have mentioned that most of the suspects were from out of town, not Isla Vista. People from out of town perpetrate most assaults in I.V., former Foot Patrol Lieutenant Butch Arnoldi frequently said. The News-Press did not talk to Arnoldi or the current IVFP Lt. Russ Birchim for its article.
Four of the eight suspects arrested in September’s assault were Isla Vistans. One of them was a Santa Barbara City College student; three of them were not attending school. That means, out of eight people, seven did not go to school in the area and none attended UCSB. The incident is disturbing, all the more so because the crime was not reported for almost nine months and many people knew of it. Here the News-Press could have proved its point. It could have asked residents and partygoers why no one reported such a crime to the police. The News-Press could have looked for similar instances. The News-Press did none of these things and the point went unproved.
The article did not start with a question like, “Is there something wrong in Isla Vista?” It started with an assumption: “There is something wrong in Isla Vista.”
Accordingly, statements were never supported, contradictory facts were ignored and sources were used poorly.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Thomas was an inappropriate source. Sure, he’s the sheriff, but when was the last time he worked in Isla Vista? He certainly does not work in I.V. now. He has nothing to do with SBCC or UCSB. Yet the News-Press quotes him saying, “The university needs to make a major effort in keeping their commitment with law enforcement.” Huh? It would have been far more appropriate to quote Arnoldi or Bircham. But then, they might not have supported the News-Press’ pre-ordained truth.
Serious crime in I.V. declined last year. It’s been declining for the last decade. Arrests for minor offenses involving alcohol have increased, but this is likely due to better enforcement.
Besides IVFP lieutenants, who didn’t the News-Press talk to? Church leaders, students, families, long-term residents, and the 50 percent of the population that is Hispanic. It’s a long list. And yet, the News-Press had no qualms attributing outrage to “much of the community,” “witnesses,” “authorities,” and “community members.” The News-Press never mentioned how many people live in Isla Vista or who they are.
The News-Press did quote fire Captain Wes Herman, a 17-year veteran. Unfortunately, it quoted him talking about an experiment involving rats and overpopulation. To date, Herman has not received a degree in biology or sociology.
Worse is what the News-Press did to Vice-Chancellor of Students Michael Young. Young apparently “balked” at the idea that UCSB should expel students for drunk-in-public arrests. The article portrayed Young as a weak, vacillating and ineffective bureaucrat. Why? Because, according to the News-Press, UCSB should punish students for actions outside the school.
To the News-Press, I.V. residents are “unsupervised 18-to-23-year-olds who don’t have to be accountable to anyone.”
Beyond the redundancy – if you’re unsupervised, you’re not accountable to anyone – there’s the fact that people are accountable because they’re accountable to the law. Also, 18-to-23-year-olds are allowed to drive, vote and serve in the military. The law even considers them adults. If adults, even young ones, need supervision, the News-Press should have shown why.
That would have been journalism.