Yale Daily News editors sat on explosive Patrick Witt story for months

“I have learned in the past few hours that the editors of the Yale Daily News knew about the sexual assault charge as early as November.”

Alex Klein is a Yale senior majoring in “Ethics, Politics, and Economics.” He was Opinion Editor of the Yale Daily News last year.

Late last year, national news outlets breathlessly reported that Yale’s quarterback, Patrick Witt, had chosen to skip a Rhodes Scholarship finalist interview in order to lead our team against Harvard in the annual Game. I was thrilled and proud. The decision struck me, as it did my friends in and out of the media, as smart and heroic. A few months earlier, Pat had helped move a hammock, volunteering as a stagehand in a play I directed. Remembering our connection, I fired off a paragraph-long “thank you” email. But his terse response surprised me: “Thanks for the note, I’ll see you around.”

Last night’s bombshell, broken by Times, may explain the awkward reply. At the time of my email, there was no heroic choice to be made: Pat was no longer a candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship. Days before, the Rhodes committee had suspended his candidacy after discovering that an anonymous woman had accused him of sexual assault. Yale officials knew about the complaint as early as September. It’s unclear if those directly responsible for endorsing Pat’s Rhodes application knew about the assault claim — or if the Yale administration decided to re-endorse Pat after being contacted by the Rhodes committee. Regardless, Pat was no longer a candidate on November 13, when he announced he would play in the Game, earning hero-worship at Yale and in the national media.

The story is sad and still mostly untold. We know few details regarding the sexual assault claim itself. But even in the weeks before the Game, when Yale knew about the charge, the university continued to push the “heroic choice” story on the mainstream media, which gobbled it up all too eagerly. This is disappointing, but not surprising. The Yale administration has persistently stifled the reality of sexual assault on campus: a real and serious problem that prompted last year’s Title IX complaint against the university, alleging a “hostile sexual climate.” But responsibility for the culture of silence does not end at the administration’s door — nor at Patrick Witt’s. I have learned in the past few hours that the editors of the Yale Daily News, the nation’s oldest college daily and a bastion of college journalism, knew about the sexual assault charge as early as November.

As current Science and Technology editor Eli Markham told me, the News’ editor-in-chief, Max de la Bruyere, decided to sit on the story in mid-November. “It’s more complicated than that,” he told a leader on last year’s editorial board, who asked to remain anonymous. Multiple current and past members of the newspaper’s managing board, all deeply involved in the day-to-day work of the paper, have confirmed that the News has had the story for over two months. In fact, the Times story that broke last night featured reporting from last year’s editor-in-chief, Vivian Yee. She too approached the paper with a tip-off, but its editors chose not to follow the story. The paper even knew that the sexual assault claim had lost Pat an offer to join the Boston Consulting Group after graduation. Even then, they wrote nothing. For reasons personal, social, or political — who can ever tell on a college campus? — the News’ management chose to ignore the bombshell, protecting Pat’s reputation.

I am deeply disappointed. Last year, I served as opinion editor at the paper, and couldn’t have enjoyed the experience more. We editorialized through a year of horrible headlines for the university: the aforementioned Title IX charge, sexist chanting from the DKE fraternity (of which Pat was a member), and the administration’s move to censor Sex Week, an educational forum on campus. My colleagues rose daily to the challenge. Like the Newsies that came before them, many will graduate to leadership roles at major national publications. And so too may the students who kept a real and disturbing story out of the public eye.

Each morning, Yale’s dining halls fill with students leafing through their daily copy of the News. I believe they have come to trust it more than your average college paper — as a source unafraid of angering friends, professors, or Presidents when telling unsavory truths. We have all been let down. In choosing to ignore this story, the News not only perpetuated the deceptive, now-shredded narrative of Pat’s “heroic choice.” The paper and its editor are also complicit in Yale’s culture of secrecy surrounding sexual assault: the very object of the Title IX complaint.

(Editor Max de La Bruyere declined to respond to this piece. — Romenesko)

* Today’s Yale Daily News print edition story on Patrick Witt



  1. fermata said:

    sorry but I still cannot, for the life of me, understand how skipping the Rhodes interview to QB the big game qualifies as “heroic,” regardless of the mess going on behind the scenes. Clearly, a lot of people felt that to be the case so I’m not sure what I’m missing. I might consider it “loyal” or “dedicated” or “team-spirited.” But “heroic”? Help me out here.

  2. IJEzra said:

    Probably wasn’t published because the accusation could not be fully substantiated. I am glad the YDN, unlike the Times, chooses true journalism over sensationalist muckraking.

  3. @IJEzra said:

    True, but the story is less about the accusation than the accusation’s impact on his Rhodes candidacy.

  4. Ja said:

    I’ve always mildly wished that Knight Foundation would pull its journalism programs out of Yale and locate them at an educational institution not so culturally prone to compromising news principles, and by that I mean not so in awe of the trappings of power and prestige.

  5. You're a joke said:

    You have got to be kidding me. Alex Klein, I never thought you were the tool that a lot of people said you were, but this is just you trying to get attention. This is a joke.

  6. anon said:

    Fermata, I agree. Sacrificing a Rhodes interview for a sporting event — in a sport that causes brain trauma (and maybe he already has brain trauma) — is a dumb decision in every dimension.

    I felt similarly about the Jayson Blair thing when Jayson was called such a talented reporter. I failed to see what talent he exhibited. His fabricated stories sucked. They weren’t even gracefully written.

  7. Stacks said:

    Klein makes the same mistake Yee makes, both assuming that they know why Witt didn’t go to Atlanta. They are connecting the dots in their minds. Unfortunately, that is not the same as reality, since they actually don’t know why he made his decision. He may well have just felt that his candidacy was damaged, even if Yale were to re-endorse him. Probably true, guilty or innocent. And, as all agree, The Decision is what this whole things is about.

  8. T-rex said:

    OP, I hear your whining, but it’s generally unfounded. If you would have written why you believe the Title IX and the story are better related, I could possibly be on the same page with you.

    In the real world – and you need to get used to this fast – real news is often not published. Just as all crimes are not prosecuted. There are many other big picture stories out there.

    Also, I believe it would be derogatory to Mr. Witt to be lambasted by your journalism organization without more than an “anonymous” complaint. The rest of the world has seen was unfounded allegations do to a person’s reputation.

    Good luck after you graduate. You will need a better perspective in order to succeed in the world.