Posted by: Eduardo J. Soto | March 16, 2010

Columbia Law Professor Christina Burnett’s Letter to the El Nuevo Día

[Re: Manipulating Self-Determination, Harvard Political Review]

Pablo Hernandez’s article was covered in one of Puerto Rico’s leading newspapers, El Nuevo Dia, last week. The article omitted mention of Hernandez’s name or familial relations, instead portraying his views as those of the Harvard Political Review. In addition, the article prominently featured Professor Kenneth Shepsle’s comments, though it replaced the cautionary word “probably” with the claim that Professor Shepsle has “no doubt” about his views on HR 2499. The article also claimed that Professor Shepsle has studied HR 2499 and Puerto Rico’s political and plebiscitary history. As it happens, not only is this false, but Professor Shepsle didn’t even know he was going to be quoted in the article. Last Thursday I wrote a letter to the editors of El Nuevo Dia to correct the record. Not surprisingly, they have not published it. It reads as follows:

To the editors:

“I read with interest your coverage on the article that appeared in the Harvard Political Review (HPR) entitled “Manipulating Self-Determination,” which criticizes the Pierluisi bill. I was surprised to see Professor Kenneth Shepsle quoted in the article, however, since I did not recall coming across his work on Puerto Rico. But it turns out Professor Shepsle was even more surprised. He tells me his words were quoted out of context, and he disclaims any expertise on the matter of Puerto Rico’s status—which is reasonable, since he knows nothing about the subject. It would appear that the author of the HPR piece was a freshman in a course taught by Professor Shepsle, who met with the professor to discuss his term paper, because he was writing an article for the HPR on the same subject. The student incorporated into the article comments made by the professor in the course of a general discussion of voting systems. It did not occur to Professor Shepsle that his words were going to be quoted, much less as an “expert” taking a position in a complicated, delicate, and controversial debate. And he’s not amused.

Presumably your readers are aware that the student in question is the son of José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral? Or maybe not, since your coverage neglected to mention it.

There is something genuinely sad about the mainstream newspaper on the island writing news stories about undergraduate editorials in student publications on the mainland. Worse still that your reporting exaggerated the errors of the original. Has it really come to this?”

Christina Duffy Burnett
Associate Professor of Law
Columbia Law School

[Prof. Christina Duffy Burnett is an Associate Professor of Law from Columbia Law School and a contributing friend of the PRSSA. Before joining the Columbia faculty in 2007, she served as a law clerk to Judge Jose A. Cabranes on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and to Justice Stephen G. Breyer on the United States Supreme Court.]


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