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Columbia Journalism School Decision to Let Gore Teach Off the Record

February 09, 2001

On Tuesday, when Al Gore gave his first lecture as a part-time journalism teacher at Columbia University, his studentswere under a gag order. They were told that the class taught by the former vice president and presidential candidatewas off the record.

Yesterday, under pressure, Columbia lifted the gag order after widespread criticism that the policy violated not onlyacademic freedom but also journalistic ethics. Some wags noted, however that the Columbia’s catering to Gore wouldgive fledgling reporters a great lesson in how to cultivate powerful sources by caving in to ethically problematicground rules.

While some students did talk to reporters in general terms after Gore’s first lecture, no one in the class openlyrejected the policy. According to a leaked memo, students had to agree to the gag order as a pre-condition forattendance. Columbia did not return calls to authenticate the memo or to respond to memos.

"We expect that you will comply with the decision to offer the seminar on an off-the-record basis; your attendancewill be taken as evidence that, in accordance with the School’s honor system, you accept this stipulation."

The Columbia incident raises serious issues about journalistic ethics and the relationship between reporters and thepeople they cover.


  • David Makali, a Kenyan journalist who is a fellow at Columbia University.
  • Steve Weinberg, free lance investigative reporter and former executive director of investigative reportersand editor at the Missouri School of Journalism where he teaches.

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