Former Daily Cal editor in chief Daniel Hernandez reflects on controversial ad 20 years later

Photo of Daily Cal Alumni Daniel Hernandez
Daniel Hernandez/Vice Media/Courtesy

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On Feb. 28, 2001, The Daily Californian ran a full-page advertisement titled “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks Is a Bad Idea–and Racist Too.”

The ad, purchased by conservative writer and “professional provocateur” David Horowitz, sparked protests and emails. Daniel Hernandez, the editor in chief and president at the time, issued a front-page apology in the next day’s paper for allowing itself “to become an inadvertent vehicle for bigotry,” according to a Los Angeles Times article published March 2, 2001.

Horowitz had submitted the ad to several college newspapers across the country. Some rejected it; others ran it. According to Hernandez, who had been a UCPD beat reporter, assistant news editor and opinion editor before serving as editor in chief, the Daily Cal’s business department had accepted the ad, but it was not reviewed by editors such as himself.

“There were multiple people responsible, but ultimately, the responsibility fell on me, so we apologized for the fact that that thing did run,” Hernandez said. “Something very provocative was clearly not intended to, you know, spark goodwill debate.”

The Daily Cal’s apology spurred nationwide backlash, largely from conservatives. A Washington Post columnist criticized then-20-year-old Hernandez’s “spinelessness” and split infinitives in the apology. He claimed to “find no racism” in the ad and advised Hernandez to take a “refresher course in the basics of constitutional law” and “re-enroll in Journalism 101.”

Despite the backlash, Hernandez stood by his decision and still does today.

“I think we did right, ultimately, by the community. It taught me how to handle intense, sort of, campaigns of criticism,” he said. “And that’s definitely, I would say, helped me in my career on how to handle those kinds of attacks, not fall into traps of trolling, which is super important.”

Hernandez speculates that his identity as a student of color heightened the blowback his apology received. Part of the first freshman class admitted to UC Berkeley without race considerations after the passing of Proposition 209 — which the Daily Cal had endorsed — Hernandez was advised by other students of color not to join the paper for its conservative views.

But despite all, he joined the Daily Cal, having worked on his high school paper, and when professional journalists lambasted his response to the ad, he “let it roll off” of him. 

“If it didn’t make me want to quit journalism, that level of abuse and scorched earth tactics by people from all over the country … I figured that I probably had picked a good enough career and I can probably face those kinds of controversies later,” Hernandez said. “It was good training. Even that controversy and those failures were good training.”

The lessons have stayed with Hernandez throughout his decadeslong career as a journalist. He interned at the LA Times the summer after his term as editor in chief ended and returned to the Daily Cal his senior year to serve as the night editor, overseeing the copy desk.

Since then, he’s reported and edited at various publications, including LA Weekly, Vice Media, Raze, L.A. Taco and The New York Times, before returning to the LA Times, where he currently works.

A lot has changed in the past two decades: The Daily Cal no longer provides its editors cell phones; its office has moved from Eshleman Hall to Northside; print layouts are emailed to the printer, not transported physically by drivers; and Hernandez’s Google search results have shifted from stories about the ad to his many bylines.

But some things have remained constant. The editor in chief still buys snacks for editors on production nights. Inches are allocated in more or less the same way. Hernandez’s legacy remains at the newspaper — beyond the ad controversy.

“I want the Daily Cal to remember that I was a Latino editor in chief in my third year at this institution and that, overall, we did a pretty good job,” he said. “We did a complete redesign. And we redesigned the nameplate, which had not been done in decades.”

The redesign laid the foundation for the paper’s current layout, and the same nameplate hangs in the Daily Cal office today. Hernandez has succeeded at the Daily Cal and beyond — a reminder that our mistakes do not define us.

Jocelyn Huang covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter @jocelynxhuang.