Thursday, October 4, 2007

Free Press at Colorado State University

Prologue: I know this is a long post with a lot of possibly unnecessary details, but I am sick of the media spin that happens in mainstream media and has been happening right in front of my eyes. So, here are all the facts, take from them what you will.

This story begins on Friday September 21, 2007. The Day began at 12:00 AM when the 7 member editorial board of the Rocky Mountain Collegian (The student newspaper at Colorado State University) approved and printed a four word editorial that received instant national media attention. It read - Taser this... F___ BUSH. Except the f word was spelled out. This was not on the front page, but on page four, the Op/Ed page, in large font ( I just measured it.. the font used has letters 4 cm tall and 2.5 cm wide). The editorial stated underneath the large lettering that "this column represents the views of the collegian's editorial board." The front page of that issue of the Collegian had the headline FREE SPEECH LIMITS. I took this to mean that the issue would be a discussion of exactly that. The use of the profane word sparked immediate national media attention. Michael Moore put a censored photo of the editorial on his website, and camera crews headed for Fort Collins, Colorado.

When I go into the lab in the morning I usually pick up a copy of the Collegian as I did on that Friday. After showing my colleagues, they thought "well, that's immature" and didn't really give it another thought. I watched the media coverage of all of this with curiosity at first, and then I decided to get involved. On Saturday the 22nd CNN aired a video clip online and on television which had the title CSU students split over controversial editorial, or something to that effect. This piece included four interviews with CSU students. Two interviews where the interviewee thought the editor in chief should resign and two in which the interviewees stated they supported the editorial boards right to speak their minds.



I thought that this was a fair interview but I continued to watch the media coverage. This next bit is what motivated me to get involved.

The college republicans, a chartered student organization on campus, announced on Sunday the 23rd that they would have a booth on the student plaza from 10:00 AM until 3 PM where they would collect signatures on a petition calling for J. David McSwane's resignation. The college Republicans announced this to the local news media and were interviewed on Sunday announcing their intentions to hold this public petition. I did not hear about this public petition until I was at home Monday eating lunch and reading the Collegian's website. As soon as I heard about this I rode my bike to the student center to engage the republicans in a conversation. This conversation lasted for about 45 minutes from about 1:15 until 2:00 Monday. While discussing with them their rationale for calling for his resignation I was photographed by The Rocky Mountain News and subsequently interviewed. My pictured appeared the next day, Tuesday, on page 8 of the Rocky Mountain News accompanying an article titled "300 at CSU urge firing of editor." I am pictured here having a "heated debate" with the college republicans. During my conversation with the 9+ people manning the booth on Monday I asked them how I could set up my own booth to collect signatures supporting J. David McSwane and the entire editorial board and their right to free speech and free press as guaranteed under amendment 1 of the U.S. Constitution. They said it was easy and all I needed to do was contact the EPO (events planning organization) at CSU and get a chartered student group or department to call in a reservation for me. So even though I'm not affiliated with the republican or the democratic party I started calling.

I thought that the logical place to start calling was the "Young Democrats." I got a contact number from the CSU website but the problem was that this was an out-dated number and I ended up calling the president of the young democrats from last year. her name is Nicole and she did want to help me so she gave me the contact information for the current president and vice president. After calling, and sending e-mails to both I received no reply. I also wrote e-mails to the "allied students for peace" and a group with the word zen in their title to see if someone would step up and sponsor a booth for me. I did all this with no luck. I don't know if they just didn't get my messages or they did not want to involve their group with the controversy. So I started calling individual professors to see if I could get a department to reserve space on the plaza for me. I contacted a few who were willing but could not get their department to agree in that short a time frame. The one professor that was most willing to help me was Pamela Jackson of the journalism department. After many failed attempts to get a booth set up I called the EPO back once again and asked them if it was OK that I, as an individual, go to the plaza and and ask people to sign a petition. They said "oh yes that is perfectly fine" as long as you don't have any "equipment" - meaning a table, tent, chairs or any amplification. So with this information I wrote out a petition which I will quote here verbatim.

This petition is in support of Rocky Mountain Collegian Editor in chief J. David McSwane, and the freedom of the press, guaranteed to all U.S. citizens in the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.Neither J. David McSwane, nor any other member of their editorial board should be penalized by any governing body for their editorial published Friday September 21st 2007.

Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I printed out about 30 pages and went to the plaza at my lunch hour on Tuesday. I did not have any signs at this point It was just me a pen and a clipboard. I was hesitant to approach people at first and I only collected about 20 signatures on Tuesday from 12 PM until 1:30. those twenty signatures meant a lot to me though because for each one I had a few minutes of conversation about the issue with the signer. I started feeling more confident that I could get a lot of signatures by 7 PM Wednesday (when the board of student communications, aka the BSC, would have their public opinion hearing). While collecting signatures on Tuesday I noticed I was not alone in my idea to start a petition as an individual affiliated with no group. Ben Whiner is a freshman computer science major I met on the plaza on Tuesday. Our petitions were almost identical, so we decided to team up to double our potential total petition tally. I told him to meet me at this cottonwood stump that sits almost at the center of the plaza the next morning at about 10:30 AM.

I want to take a second here to tell you about the national media coverage at this point. I talked about CNN having an even-handed video piece that aired Saturday the 22nd. Well, since the college republicans had collected over 300 signatures on Monday calling for J. David mcSwane to resign, CNN decided to run another story on Tuesday the 25th which had the title which read something like "CSU students call for editors resignation." This completely shocked me and made me sick that a puny 300 signatures gathered on a campus of well over 20,000 students had come to mean that the entire student body was calling for him to resign. This really lit a fire under me. So Tuesday night I went to the local radio station on my bike (KRFC) and asked them how I could set up an interview tomorrow to inform the community of what exactly was going on on campus. The woman at the office told me to call the station between 7-7:30 AM the next morning and ask for David Peterson the news director. I did this and we set up an interview where he brought a tape recorder to the student plaza meeting me there at 11:00 AM Saturday. After meeting Ben and getting some signatures between 10:30 and 11 I conducted my interview with David Peterson. I did not get to hear whether it aired or not because I spent the rest of the day gaining signatures on the petition I wrote out above. Between 11-1 on Wednesday Ben and I had attracted an entourage of people who not only wanted to sign the petition but wanted to help spread the word about free speech and free press. When I went home to grab a quick lunch my roommate and I both counted the signatures independently. we agreed that at that point the tally was 435. When I returned to the plaza the group had grown and we totaled the signatures gained at 3:30 at this point the count was at 734. this is the number that appeared in the rocky mountain news article released online last night (Wednesday night) entitled Group of CSU students rallies around embattled editor. as classes ended that day we did not continue to get the volume of signatures we had been getting all day but they were still being added. Throughout the day our group had been telling people to go to C101 Plant sciences for the BSC hearing at 7:00 PM that night. I showed up to the hearing at about 6:15. Ben had saved me a seat close to the front. With our petition in hand we prepared for the hearing. I had printed off a copy of the BSC by-laws before heading to hearing.

A large portion of the hearing was captured on tape by independent media outlet InTheoryTV. The cameraman ran out of battery as I was speaking.



The hearing began promptly at 7 and the board began by asking questions of J. David McSwane himself. Then there was a period for public comment in which speakers that signed up could share their opinion on weather or not J. David McSwane should be fired or not. We all had to sign up ahead of time. If you apposed the editor you signed up on a sheet of gray paper, if you supported you signed up on a green sheet. I signed up on the green. everyone who signed up was given a chance to speak. 19 signed up to speak in support of McSwane while 12 signed up to oppose him. All the major news companies had large cameras rolling in the front left side of the room. each person got 3 minutes to speak. However, after a man from the community said the N word about Barack Obama. all the major news crews packed up their cameras. The man pictured in this article printed in the Rocky Mountain News today (titled Editor's fate in the hands of CSU panel) is the person who used the N word in reference to Barack Obama. (which I found extremely offensive as I feel that that goes into a related but wholly different issue of hate speech). Anyway after his talk about 3 more people talked and then it was my turn. I had been thinking about what I wanted to say all day. I decided to keep it short and to the point. There were three specific points I wanted to make. First: after all the toil of getting nearly 800 signatures to support the editorial board and their first amendment rights I thought that should be the first order of business. The first thing I said was "I have in my had a petition that supports J. David McSwane, and the entire editorial board, and their right to exercise their first amendment right." I said (to be conservative and not give an over-estimate) that there were over 700 signatures on the petition (if you count those signatures that were gained from the people outside the hearing which Isaac Burbank (a friend of Dave McSwane's) brought to me later we had actually over 800 names on our petition. I submitted this petition to the board because I thought they would enjoy reading the comments. After that was handed in I made my second point which was to read to the board excerpts from their own bylaws which demonstrate that J. David McSwane was within his rights as editor in chief to use the four letter word. I will quote these excerpts here.

29 PROFANE, VULGAR WORDS, EXPLICIT SEXUAL LANGUAGEAlthough the intended primary audience of the Collegian is adults, the newspaper is widely circulated on- and off-campus and is available to minors (as are Student Media television programs). Even though profane and vulgar words are part of everyday conversation, they are not to be used in news accounts or letters to the editor unless they are considered by the editor-in-chief to be essential to readers' understanding of the situation. Use of words viewed as vulgar and profane also should not overshadow other, more important facts of the story. Profane and vulgar words are not acceptable for opinion writing. Though they may be vulgar or profane, individual words are not obscene. Explicit language -- but not vulgar, street language -- describing sexual activities and human body parts and functions should be used for accurate reporting of health stories and, in a limited way, for sexual crime stories.

This comes from page 17 of the BSC's bylaws at CSU. I specifically addressed this point to the woman named Jaime (dressed in a reddish purple blouse, I don't recall her last name). I addressed her because I heard her say in her initial questions to David (I'm paraphrasing here) "you knew that profanity was prohibited under the BSC bylaws, so why did you choose to run the editorial and ignore that." It clearly states in the bylaws that the editor has the choice to use profane language if the editor-in-chief deems it essential to readers' understanding of the situation. The second point I made regarding the bylaws was that there are things flat out prohibited from appearing in the Collegian and those include things considered to be "obscene as to a minor." These prohibitions are listed on page 5-6 of the bylaws. For the third point I wanted to talk about all the adjectives that had been used during the hearing to describe the F-word. "Profane, vulgar, sophomoric, these are all words that describe the F-word and I would agree with that assessment. Let's not forget that in June 2004 Vice President Dick Cheney directed the F word at a senator on the senate floor." This next bit I was encouraged to dig up after I had read the day before a conservative blogger who thought the Cheney F word usage was justified because it was off the cuff and not intended to be in print. So I looked for an instance where the President himself had used the F work in print. It was not hard to find an example. During an interview in 1999 while still governor of Texas George W. Bush was quoted in print saying the F- word at least three times by Tucker Carlson (Mr. Bow Tie himself) for TALK magazine. this appeared in the September issue 1999, p. 106. So I finished my speech by saying that I do not believe that an editor of a college newspaper should be held to any higher standards than the President of the United States of America.

I was sick of hearing everyone talk about money last night. When is our country going to start churning out well informed, alert citizenry, that care about some basic core values that transcend country, race, or religion, rather than a bunch of "good business people."

The last thing I want to say here is I have been inspired to start talking openly about my opposition to the war in Iraq recently because my best friend, since we were 3 years old, is stationed at Camp Speicher in Northern Iraq right now. He will be there for the next 14 months. Anyone who tells me to be quiet and wait until the election of 2008, so I can voice my opinion at the ballot box, I say "no I will not be quiet." Everyday my best friend spends in that country is another day he risks his life to make the oil industry more wealthy. It is unacceptable to me that I should stand by and watch as the leaders of our country do what they please with our military might without listening to the calls of the citizenry. Please heed the words of a great President.

"We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together"

-Dwight D. Eisenhower


Peace
Kristopher Hite

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