They Flee From Wyatt

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Featurewell founder David Wallis cites some disturbing examples of colleges offering "guidance" on what their student newspapers can and can't say:

In recent months, there have been several examples of college administrators sending young journalists the wrong message. Barton County Community College in Kansas fired its paper's media adviser after she resisted an order not to run a letter criticizing the school's basketball coach. La Roche College, a Catholic school in Pittsburgh, confiscated 900 copies of the La Roche Courier in which a columnist suggested that "condoms and other forms of contraception could eliminate unwanted babies out of wedlock."

And at its Brooklyn campus, Long Island University changed the locks on its student newspaper offices and suspended its editor for rigorous reporting—revealing the failing grades of a former student government president who had mysteriously resigned.

The showcase incident took place at the Baylor Lariat, where the president of Baylor denounced a pro-gay marriage editorial that came "dangerously close to violating University policy." As Wallis notes, this incident brought out less support for free expression than pedantic reminders that you only have freedom of the press if you own one. The most disturbing of these seen-it-all raspberries comes from New York Times reporter and Baylor alum Edward Wyatt:

"If there are newspapers out there that routinely defy their publishers' values on their editorial pages, I have yet to discover them."

Note Wyatt's disingenuous adverb: This wasn't something happening "routinely." It was a single event. Or maybe we should infer from this that Arthur Sulzberger Jr. "routinely" nixes content he doesn't agree with in the Times? If he's at all concerned about his paper's credibility, I'd doubt that's the case, but who knows?

Whole article.

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  1. What the fuck Tim? I don't see anything "pedantic" about upholding the property rights of publishers. I don't find any of these stories "disturbing" in the least. In fact, I find your implied "they should be forced to publish things I approve of, even if they don't", quite disturbing. Especially since the cost of owning, or at least renting, a press is so low that just about anyone who wishes to, can afford to print up a campus rag. Truly "disturbing" stories of this nature are those where students are censored/disciplined for what they publish on their own dime.

  2. I'm an ex-newspaper editor (and later publisher), and I can't get at ALL worked up about incidents like this. Freedom of the press is about someone having the right to publish something without government stopping you. To me, these cases have nothing in common with that. If a university (or high school) owns and publishes a publication as a teaching tool or a communication tool for the students, it is perfectly free to censor as it sees fit. I happen to favor a school being very liberal with what it allows, but my views don't matter since I'm not the owner. If those kids want to publish their own paper, let them start one. I fail to see any issue of concern to libertarians -- unless you interpret libertarian as meaning "making people or organizations do with their resources what I would allow."

  3. Of the schools mentioned, only Barton CC is owned by the government, so it is manifestly NOT a First Amendment violation for the publisher to spike a story. Wallis is engaging in the trick popular among certain professional groups - The American Library Association is another - that decisions on how to run the enterprise properly belong to staff, rather than ownership.

    Religious colleges and universities have, on occasion, been censured by the American Assn. of University Professors when their theology faculty have deviated from the doctrine of the sponsoring denomination in their teaching. These are People Not Clear On The Concept. Academic Freedom is a wonderful thing, but expecting a Catholic school like La Roche from tolerating pro-contraception or pro-abortion views in its publications is asking too much.

    Does anyone doubt that Pinch Sulzberger has drawn a line around certain topics he doesn't want challenged in the NYT? The whole Raynes flap was based in giving the publisher what he wanted, wasn't it?

    Kevin

  4. Let me first make the obligatory statement that obviously a private school has the right to decide what will or will not be published with its funding and/or facilities. And obviously a public school shouldn't exist in the first place. So from an ideological standpoint there'd be absolutely no problem whatsoever if public schools didn't exist and everybody just shut up and recognized that private schools can do whatever they want.

    Still, even if we lived in a perfect world where schools were 100% private, people might still criticize a school's policies while recognizing that the school had the right to pursue those (allegedly) controversial policies.

    So, recognizing all ideologically necessary points, I think it's generally pretty dumb for a school administrator to crack down on a newspaper. The administration will only wind up hurting itself in the eyes of the students and faculty. Yes, yes, a private school has (or at least should have) the absolute, unqualified, and unconditional right to use its property as it pleases. But the rest of us would have the right to say "That school administrator is acting in a stupid manner that isn't conducive to an open learning environment, so we won't be attending that school or sending our kids there."

    And then somebody could probably point out that instead of criticizing we can just let the market decide, but the market is composed of individuals who exchange information and opinions.

    Anyway, this happens every time a private institution is criticized on H&R. I just think it's important to remember that private institutions aren't above criticism.

  5. "I fail to see any issue of concern to libertarians..."

    I think the issues here are more generally interesting than necessarily being specifically "libertarian." I think Warren and David are both right that this isn't a censorship/1st amendment issue. It's more of an issue of journalistic integrity and honesty. God knows we hear enough about how (professional) journalists are so important to a free and open society, and that they hold some sacred position as defenders of said society. We hear this from reporters, editors, publishers, etc. This kind of crap doesn't really seem consistent with that.

    Having said that, I don't have any idea if these particular publishers are on record making such comments, and of course it's a lot less disturbing/consequential when it happens at the local community college paper as opposed to NYT.

  6. Please don't talk about "journalistic integrity" around anyone who has been reading newspapers the past 40 years. We might choke.

  7. 1. Thoreau and J have done a good job of illuminating some points of the issue, but

    2. Do I really need to recite a passage from the libertarian catechism every time I say anything that isn't a strict issue of private heroes vs. public villains? It's an exceedingly boring way to write and generates exceedingly boring material. Can't we just assume, when writing at a libertarian publication, that a property owner has the right to dispose of his or her own property without having to fucking repeat it every three seconds? The issue is not one of private ownership, since they're obviously free to do what they wish with their own property. It is an issue of journalistic credibility, which is why

    3. A good publisher hires people he or she thinks will do a good job in editorial positions, then gives them a free hand even if their independence starts to hurt a little. Again, as St. Hayek and Rothbard the Confessor have told us in their meditations, the publisher, as a property owner, is under no obligation to do this, but it is expected that the title "editor" comes with as total a degree of editorial freedom as possible. When a publisher does not behave this way, as when Marty Peretz fired Michael Kelly for being too critical of Al Gore, the penalty he suffers is loss of his publication's credibility. It seems obvious to me that

    4. Craven tailoring to what the publisher wants is not the kind of lesson a student paper should be teaching, and this was the sole point of the Wallis story (which by the way concluded with a market-based solution to the problem he outlined). Furthermore,

    5. I don't know what kevrob knows about "The whole Raines flap," but it looked to me like an editor using the publication to do what he wanted. Maybe Sulzberger took some obsessive interest in Augusta National-like I said, who knows? But publishers have many indirect ways of making their feelings known, and I don't believe Sulzberger issues many direct, public comments on where he wants the paper to go editorially. If he did, people would stop reading his paper.

  8. It is indeed boring to have to recite passages from the libertarian catechism whenever certain topics come up. The need to do so sometimes makes me think that I should find a different discussion board for fun. But I suspect that on any politically-oriented discussion board there will be drawbacks of one sort or another. And since I like this discussion board over all, I figure it's worth sticking with.

  9. Especially since the cost of owning, or at least renting, a press is so low that just about anyone who wishes to, can afford to print up a campus rag.

    I'm quite certain that schools that have no problem with shutting down their own newspapers based on content would find a way to prohibit students from distributing unauthorized publications on campus property. Unless you're going to argue that the college owns the newspaper but not the goddamned campus.

  10. "Do I really need to recite a passage from the libertarian catechism every time I say anything that isn't a strict issue of private heroes vs. public villains?"- Tim Cavanaugh

    If you don't want to do that, then perhaps you would consider not using concepts like "freedom of expression" with regard to those issues? It gives the impression that you believe that writers and editors have some "right" which the publisher is suppressing, rather then the publisher is exercising his rights in fashion you don't believe he should.

    That being said, do you really believe that a college newspaper, particularly at a religious institution, should have or even realistically can have the same publisher/editor relationship as a major commercial newspaper? Their purposes for existing are somewhat different, and as there is some connotation that what appears in the newspaper, especially in the editorials is the position of the school.

  11. "Do I really need to recite a passage from the libertarian catechism every time I say anything that isn't a strict issue of private heroes vs. public villains? It's an exceedingly boring way to write and generates exceedingly boring material. Can't we just assume, when writing at a libertarian publication, that a property owner has the right to dispose of his or her own property without having to fucking repeat it every three seconds?"

    The following is from a page on this site...

    ?reason, unlike most wonky journals of opinion, does not
    preach mainly to the converted. Its voice, always clear and
    unacademic, is distinguished by rigorous and exhaustive
    logical argument.?It?s a rare thing to have one?s mind
    changed by a magazine (or by anything, as a matter of fact)
    but I find this often happens with reason.?
    ?Media Week

    Looks like Media Week was wrong; this site seems mainly for the converted. Or is it possible than someone other than a converted libertarian may find the conversation interesting? I found the above slam both boring and childish.

  12. "If you don't want to do that, then perhaps you would consider not using concepts like "freedom of expression" with regard to those issues?"

    One would think that libertarians, of all people, would recognize the importance of norms, standards, and practices that aren't sponsored by the government. Dropping the hammer on the student paper because something you don't like got published is certainly within the First Amenement. So's standing on my head while wearing pink bloomers in the park and singing "I Touch Myself." That doesn't mean it's a good idea, or that I would be above criticism.

    "there is some connotation that what appears in the newspaper, especially in the editorials is the position of the school." Um, no there isn't. Have you seen some of the moonbad garbage that gets printed in school papers?

    This might be a good time to remember that liberal, PC UMass allowed that idiotic, offensive editorial about Pat Tillman to be published. And when the school's president found out, he...said it was a bad thing to write. He fought speech with more speech. You'd think libertarians would recognize the value of such behavior.

  13. "That doesn't mean it's a good idea, or that I would be above criticism."

    Who said it's not above criticism? I'm not objecting to Cavanaugh's criticism, I'm objecting to the language he used in his criticism, i.e. free expression is not an issue as the writers and editors do not have a right to put whatever they want into the paper. Baylor, as publisher, has every right to refuse their work. Whether the school administration should do so is another issue entirely.

    "He fought speech with more speech."

    As was his option (though I do not think the UMass is a really a similiar issue to the Baylor one). However, UMass is not Baylor and is not the NY Times, different entities have different policies as they have different missions and purposes they are trying to fulfill. Demanding that they have exactly the same policies denies the uniqueness of these institutions.

    P.S. Who told you that I am a libertarian? I am not. I consider myself a conservative with strong libertarian sympathies.

  14. This is one of the best discussion threads I have read here at Hit & Run. It is good not only because of the number of diverging viewpoints, but also because of the quality of the arguments made by many participants.

    I would like to concur with most of the participants that this should not be an area of government regulation. That is difficult in a public school setting, because there is no regulation authority other than the government. The government pays (directly) for public schools. Does that mean the government should have the right to censor what goes on in public schools? Prima facie, censorship sounds like a bad thing. However, censorship often comes in the form of academic standards. What if an instructor chose to teach that the world was flat? Should the school adminitration (the government) intervene?

    In a private school setting, or in a business environment, it seems obviously true that the government should not intervene. Businesses (including schools) should be allowed to make their own foolish (forgive me, I had to) decisions.

    Those are people with whom rational intelligent human beings should refuse to do business.

    Unfortunately for Western Civilzation, that group encompasses the vast major of all educational institutions. We have ceded the education of ourselves and our children to a callow and effete group of ideologues who would not know the truth if it hit them between the eyes and would not accept the truth if they knew it.

  15. Egads, that post contained far too many spelling errors.

    I wish there was an "edit" feature on this software.

    Instead, I am going to implement a work-around by getting some sleep.

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