Accuracy in Media

BuzzFeed News presented a one-sided and biased account on upcoming rules changes to higher education sexual assault regulations from the Department of Education.

BuzzFeed News headlined their criticism, “Betsy DeVos Changed The Title IX Rules For How Schools Handle Sexual Assault Reports.” The website framed the rule changes as changes that would “give more protection and power to students accused of sexual assault” and could “hurt survivors.” The updated federal Title IX gender equity regulations narrowed the definition of sexual harassment and imposed a requirement to hold live hearings. In the hearings, the accused can cross-examine accusers through a third party.

The website portrayed the issue as one that damaged the rights of the alleged victims, without acknowledging that the updated Title IX guidelines re-establish due process in higher education.  There have been multiple stories in the last decade of male students who have been expelled or otherwise due to unproven sexual assault allegations in higher education. Many of their accounts point to a flawed justice system, where they did not receive due process protections that the U.S. Constitution should guarantee. For example, several higher education institutions set up “kangaroo courts” where the accused could not prove their innocence.

But BuzzFeed News chose to quote Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as the sole representative of due process protections, without citing other relevant sources or advocacy groups such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Meanwhile, the website quoted several opposing figures and groups, such as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the Know Your IX advocacy group, the End Rape on Campus group, and the NAACP.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education noted that colleges “often decide whether to suspend or expel students with very little of what lawyers refer to as due process.” Students who are “accused of serious offenses are often denied the opportunity to have a meaningful hearing, are denied access to evidence in their cases, and/or are unable to confront the witnesses against them.” The Department of Education’s rules changes fix this discrepancy between higher education and the criminal justice system.

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