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student newspapers and free speech

I know that this isn’t about Williams directly, but Middlebury is a relatively nearby peer institution, and the Middlebury Campus, which although not as fantab as the illustrious Williams Record (as a former editor, no, I’m not biased…), is a student newspaper, and therefore, raises universal issues of student journalists’ freedom of speech within the academy.

The situation: the editor-in-chief of the Middlebury Campus resigns and apologizes in the wake of the paper publishing a doctored photo that makes soon-to-be graduation speaker, former NYC mayor Rudolph Giuliani, look like Hitler, as a graphic to accompany an anti-Giuliani op-ed (for a more in-depth discussion, see this article from the NY Times).

While I question the commonsense of the editorial board for even considering running such an obviously incendiary graphic, I am even more disappointed in the editor-in-chief’s decision to apologize and resign. Not only should the editor-in-chief have the personal pride to stand by her decision to run the graphic, but the newspaper is within the bounds of its publishing rights. The op-ed, despite its verging-on-offensive opinionatedness, was just as provocative as the graphic, yet it was not singled out for protest. Indeed, this graphic was a similar expression of opinion and was located on the opinions page of the paper, and, therefore, did not represent the views of the editorial board. Granted that the graphic’s inclusion was in poor taste; but it does not constitute categorization as an overt act of hate speech posing a clear and present danger, which is the only legal reason to prevent publication of content.

Hmm. Why does this sound familiar? I wonder how the Middlebury Campus handled (or would handle) deciding whether or not to run a David Horowitz “ad?”

Update: Follow this link to find an earlier discussion of the Middlebury Campus‘ Giuliani-Hitler image controversy, as well as interesting comments by Middlebury folk at the way-cool Middblog (as I pat myself on the back for scooping the Middblog on its coverage of the NY Times article :)).

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#1 Comment By Michael On May 3, 2005 @ 6:27 pm

you beat us to the punch…!
http://www.middblog.com/2005/05/03/guilianihitlercampusgate_make_it_nyt.php

seriusly, though — great stuff here — hopefully middblog will soon be blogging on a level comparable to ephblog

#2 Comment By Rory On May 3, 2005 @ 7:58 pm

I hate to rehash things, but…

In regards to Horowitz and Williams, one of my biggest disappointments was the conflation of free speech and responsible speech during that debate. Does Horowitz have a right to write bigoted ads if he wants? Fine…he’s even got two or three different websites too. Does The Record have a right to publish said ads? Yes. Does The Record have the equal right to not publish said ad? Yes.

So the question, in Horowitz and it seems Middlebury can either be an obvious one (did the paper violate a right? no), or a more interesting (because people disagree on this) question revolving the paper’s decision-making process and the sensitivity it showed to its position as a means of communication and dissemination of information on a campus.

A classic form of argument is to take things to an extreme: if a paper should publish Horowitz’s ad, should it not also publish one by a more obvious hate group such as the KKK? Or someone arguing Hitler was good for Germany and Jews? Or is hate speech a special type of speech (I think so) that does not fit this argument? In which case, what if the ad had been an ad by Amherst saying “Williams sucks–go to Amherst, a better education, a better experience”. Should the Record publish that ad?

In other words, I still think a responsible person would not run an ad by Horowitz, even if s/he had the right to publish it, just as I think an editor has shown poor choice in running a picture conflating Giuliani and Hitler. It’s bad journalism, and as such, should be avoided. An editor who is unable/unwilling to see that, might not be a good editor (before Mike Needham thinks I am attacking him as an editor because he was quite good at that, let me say that I think the Horowitz ad a much more ambiguous issue. My complaint with the Horowitz ad is based more on the reactions of many to the grievance and pain felt by many students in what was an ugly discussion that I bear some fault for as well). So I agree that the editor should have shown some personal pride either to stand by the original (bad) choice, or to apologize and admit fault instead of apologizing and then saying she would have done it again.

Publishing something is stating that its views are credible enough to be a part of respectable journalism, as funder, news piece, graphic, or opinions article. The role of an editor is to choose what is credible enough to be a part of journalism and what is not. This is editorial perogative, and this is what I believe should be used more often.

Oh, and the Horowitz ad at Williams was in regards to Israel and not the more well-known and obviously inflammatory reparations ad.

#3 Comment By Alix On May 3, 2005 @ 9:35 pm

Just to clarify some factual information in light of Rory’s post.

Maia Troxel ’03 was editor-in-chief (and a damn good one, too) at the time of the so-called Horowitz situation, not Mike Needham ’04 (although he was also an awesome editor-in-chief the fall and spring semester after that), who was doing a fantastic job of being an executive editor. The decision to run the ad and the defense and explanation of that action was the responsibility of the entire executive board — and I think if you’d talk to any of them (us), they’d (we’d) still stand by their (our) decision and their (our) reasoning, despite the headaches that the aftermath that choice gave them (us).

Finally, I purposefully chose to include the reparations “ad” in my post as a example of Horowitz’s “work” for two reasons. First, it is more well-known (dare I say infamous?) than the Israel one that was printed in the Record, so, therefore, more likely to jog someone’s memory as to who Horowitz is and what his politics are like. And second, I could not find the Israel “ad” in a quick Internet search. My bad. Want to make something of it? ;)

Finally, (and I say this in the most polite way possible, despite the way it may read), not to be nit-picky and argumentative, but, Rory, I think it would be better for you to experience the full journalistic experience (news, opinions, features, arts, sports, editorials, layout, and editing), rather than just writing op-eds, before making generalizations about what is and isn’t part of journalism. I know we were all students at that time and did not know everything, but the combined decades-worth of journalistic experience, both within and outside of the Academy, that the (us) editors brought with them (us) to the Record prepared and qualified them (us) to be able to make that decision in as an informed and fair fashion as possible. What each person personally thought about the “ad,” and whether or not any individual agreed or disagreed with its content is immaterial.

You, Rory, and I may just have to agree to disagree. I understand and respect your opinion, but I, for obvious reasons, stand clearly, but respectfully, on the other side. But, then again, if all of us didn’t have different opinions, life would be boring, eh?

I’m sorry if I’ve brought up a topic from the past that still is painful for a number of people.

#4 Comment By Rory On May 4, 2005 @ 5:14 am

Thanks for the clarification about who was EIC. I knew Mike (I also know he reads this blog) so I wanted to be as polite to him as possible, and knowing Mike at the time, I spoke with him much more than Maia during that incident. My mistake.

I actually have, by the way, been a news writer, news editor, and managing editor of my high school newspaper (I know, lofty credentials, but I did do everything you listed in your post). I know we disagreed and still disagree about the issue, but I’ve never had a discussion with some one who disagreed with me about the idea of “responsible” or “respectful” journalism, save an old family friend who was once EIC of the Daily Princetonian (hit by the first round of Horowitz’s ads. They printed an editorial next to it. Horowitz then cancelled the check. He wasn’t on the paper then and he said he would have printed it. Now he’s in journalism as a full-time profession). I’ve always really wanted to have the discussion, because I see no shame in what other people have called “censorship” or “an attack on free speech”.

As for the israel ad, I wanted to make that side just in case someone saw this and thought The Record had printed that ad, which might have caused some serious confusion. Sorry not to make that clear as the intent instead of a swip at you. Wanna make something of that?:)

#5 Comment By Alix On May 4, 2005 @ 10:58 am

Thank you for your responses so far, Rory. It’s always interesting to get into these discussions and the larger issues they raise.

For instance, the idea of how to define the scope of journalism’s coverage is a fascinating topic, and one that each publication or news program (I’m still loathe to group print and television media in the same category, but that’s another topic entirely) defines differently. And on an even more macro level, how we define what is or is not a journalistic news source is even more slippery. Should Fox News and Air America be considered on the same journalistic level as the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal? And how do institutions such as the Daily Show and blogs fit into the mix? It’s really hard to come up with solid, non-emotional/partisan rationales.

Therefore, it seems to me that we must embrace the overwhelming mass of news sources and take in the information from as many of them as possible. While I am thrilled of the plurality of news sources, I am skeptical of whether or not the average American (with their busy lives and short attention spans) actually takes advantage of this. While I and a number of other people I know inform themselves through multiple news sources of different perspectives daily, I feel that too many people get their news from only one limited and often overtly biased source, which is really dangerous, not only because of its limitied scope and purposefully slanted coverage, but also because of the way the person passively receives it, rather than actively and critically engaging with and analyzing it in the big picture of things.

What does all of this intellectual mumbo-jumbo have to do with Horowitz, manipulated graphics, etc. and the decision of whether or not to publish something controversial? I guess my point is that journalists do not really have the right to distinguish what is or is not “appropriate” for people to read. In fact, it’s their job as responsible reporters to not decide, but rather present it all. (As I said before, the only red flags are when the item presents a clear-and-present danger as a security risk or as hate speech. Whether something is in “good” or “poor” taste is another issue — even though I personally may think crime stories are disgusting and pander to the least common denominator of the public, it’s still news and ought to be included for the public to know about it. It is an issue of tone and presentation, instead of an issue of whether or not to publish it. We really can’t go about making taste judgments for others, especially since most people wouldn’t know good taste if it hit them in the face — hence the popularity of reality TV shows — but I digress…). Instead we need to present them with as much information as possible and allow people to synthesize it and decide for themselves.

This is something that is more important now than ever, as people become busy/lazy and start to think of news as either entertainment or an item of passive intake (like a vitamin or vegetables, as something that’s good for them but not inherently likeable and, therefore, a chore). We need to prevent the loss of the critical thinking skills that being aware of the news encourages, and santizing the coverage isn’t the way to go.

What do you think, Rory, and anyone else who is reading this (I flatter myself and pretend that there actually are other people who care about this)?

#6 Comment By mk On May 4, 2005 @ 12:53 pm

I thought that the Horowitz fiasco was way overblown back then and I want to clarify what the ad actually said. Most of the “grievance and pain” felt by people could have been avoided if people actually read the ad. Rory & Co. claimed that the ad supposedly compared Arabs and Muslims to Nazis. However, what Horowitz actually said was that “Arab and Islamic Jew-hatred” is “the Nazi virus revived.” But when Mein Kampf is a bestseller, when caricatures of Jews in Arab media are indistinguishable from those of the Reich, and when the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a TV series, Horowitz’s claim is, unfortunately, true, shocking though it may be to those who demanded that the Record apologize for publishing it.

Second, “grievance and pain” is no reason to demand that the ad not be published. God forbid we actually read opinions that deviate from the politically correct. If you do not like Horowitz’s point of view, then argue with him and disprove him, but for God’s sake, stop whining about your feelings. I may have found Rory’s views on the Middle East situation offensive, but I didn’t go around pestering him for an apology. ;)