Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What's the Limit of Free Speech?

There's a small segment of the population on campus who remember back to the Spring of 2005 when Middlebury College announced that Rudy Giuliani would be the Commencement speaker. The Middlebury Campus embedded a picture of Giuliani with a Hitler-esque moustache in the text of a student's op-ed. President Liebowitz condemned the action; the Editor-in-Chief resigned.

From Colorado State University comes the story of a politically-inclined newspaper Editor-in-Chief, who printed "Taser this: F**k Bush" in the opinions section.

Let's be honest: these two, four-lettered words have probably run through the minds of many left-leaning students, staff, and faculty on this campus. But are these words appropriate for a college newspaper? Is that really "fair and balanced" journalism? No and no.

Now, the College Republicans of CSU are petitioning for the Editor-in-Chief to resign and urging students not to patronize those stores who advertise in the college newspaper. As a result, the paper has lost nearly $30,000 in advertising revenue and student employee wages have been cut by 10%. Should the Editor-in-Chief resign? Does this really warrant a boycott? Should the rest of the student body be penalized economically for the actions of one person? (The article was not clear if all student employee wages were cut, or if only students employed by the newspaper had their wages cut. Either way, it stinks.)

Hit the comments.

Update 1 (10:52 p.m.): The first anonymous commenter wrote, "The fantastic thing about opinions sections is that they DO NOT reflect the opinions of the editorial board."

To the contrary. "TASER THIS: F**K BUSH" is the editorial; it was not submitted by a student as an op-ed. What tipped me off? The little statement that goes with it: "This is the view of the Collegian editorial board." You can see for yourself here. Moreover, the photo of Giuliani with a Hitler moustache was also an action taken by The Campus. It was not submitted by the student who submitted the op-ed in which it was embedded.


Anonymous said...

I completely disagree with your notion that the student's ideas should not be published in the CSU newspaper. The fantastic thing about opinions sections is that they DO NOT reflect the opinions of the editorial board. Only one piece in the opinions section does, and it is called the editorial. Therefore, publishing the piece, or, for that matter, the Guiliani piece and cartoon, does not reflect any kind of breach of fair or balanced journalism.
Furthermore, the purpose of student newspapers is that they are a learning and teaching experience. As such, the editor and chief should not resign because of the publication of a somewhat over the top opinions submission.Please get your facts straight about newspapers before you lambaste their opinions sections and 'fair and balanced' journalism.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ with anonymous, who wrote:

"Furthermore, the purpose of student newspapers is that they are a learning and teaching experience."

A college newspaper carries more responsibility than what a "learning experience" conveys and whatever it prints cannot hide behind the fact it is simply part of one's education. Bad and irresponsible journalism reflects poorly on an institution, and it is often the only source of information some constituents (alumni, parents)receive about what is going on at that institution.

There is a reason why there are substantive workshops for college newspaper editors at leading journalism schools each summer --- to help students understand standards of decency and good journalism.

r.kellett said...

question: what is the standards of decency and good journalism for this blog? is MiddBlog a journalistic source or just dining-hall chatter?

Sarah Franco said...

Dining hall chatter!

Anonymous said...

Limiting free speech is a slippery slope, as is arguing that any newspaper should not be able to express opinions in the opinions section. Even if inappropriate, decreeing that a newspaper is not allowed to publish its opinions in an editorial or op/ed can only lead to further censorship, something fundamentally incompatible with principles of democracy and freedom.

Sarah Franco said...

Excellent point, Anonymous #3. I want to clarify that I don't think we ought to limit free speech per se. I think we need to recognize that there are effective and ineffective ways to express ourselves. As I alluded to in my post, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with stating those two, four-letter words; however, I don't think it's an effective way of stating one's dissatisfaction with the president in a newspaper editorial. I think it would have been better if the editor had laid it out for all to see: why is he making the connection between the student at the university in Florida being tased and Bush? Ultimately, I'm going to respect someone's well-reasoned opinion (whether I agree with it or not), more than I will profanity. So what? Why should one "f**k Bush?"

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