Political Correctness

The Campus Censorship Case That Helped Launch James Taranto's Career


James Taranto, the acerbic wit behind The Wall Street Journal's highly successful "Best of the Web" column (and a former Reason intern), published a long and very worth reading account Friday of the censorship case that marked his term at Cal State Northridge's (pretty damned good) Daily Sundial newspaper in the late 1980s. At the center of the dispute was this UCLA Daily Bruin cartoon, which Taranto was punished for republishing:

The rooster was the strip's lead character, not some kind of one-off attempt to compare black people with animals. Though yes, that critique did come up. |||

It's a fine piece for anyone interested in First Amendment jurisprudence and the dawn of campus political correctness, and is surprisingly generous toward Taranto's adversary (whose recent retirement prompted his trip down memory lane), but I especially enjoyed the very different roles played by Reason and the Los Angeles Times. Whole thing here.

NEXT: Supreme Court Will Not Hear Planned Parenthood Case

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Coo-coo ca-cha! Coo-coo ca-cha! A-koodle-doodle doo!

    1. Chickens don’t clap!

    2. Have none of you ever seen a chicken?

  2. Oh, and

    First, Northridge was a sleepy, third-tier commuter school with nothing like the pressure-cooker politics of its elite neighbor

    How can this woman be so flippant with her language? Doesn’t the WSJ have any sort of editorial board to weed out such insensitive allusions to “pressure-cookers” in this post-Boston world, or at least include a trigger warning?

    1. Woman?

      James has not had gender reassignment surgery that I know of.

      1. Ugh. I skimmed the article and mixed up genders. I do that all the time.

        1. As long as you don’t do the same thing with people you are looking to hit on.

            1. There’s nothing wrong with it BUT if you skim and see the opposite of what is reality, it could be awkward.

            2. You left off AITYD.

              1. What the heck is wrong with me that I recognize these acronyms?

  3. Was UCLA the school that encouraged, coddled, and hand-waived away gunfights among their newly entered students in the 1970s, who were not required HS diplomas of any kind, or was that USC?

    1. Sounds like USC. I remember a sign being held aloft at a USC-UCLA football game by on Bruin backer…

      “My Maid went to USC”

      1. SC will let in just about anybody who’s willing to pay. But they charge an arm and a leg.

        UCLA is a much better school and it only costs a fraction of SC, so UCLA is much harder to get into, and I think that’s what they were going after with that sign.

        USC projects themselves as an exclusive school–exclusive like country clubs are exclusive. As if only wealthy people can afford to join.

        1. Awe, sounds like someone got rejected by USC.

          1. No, I never even applied to SC.

        2. Someone’s a little butthurt Ken. This isn’t the 70s any more. USC’s admission rate is lower than UCLA’s

          1. higher SAT scores also

          2. I sometimes think Ken is fossilized into the mid-1990s.

            1. Ken is Steve?

            2. “I sometimes think Ken is fossilized into the mid-1990s.”

              It’s true that SC sucked in the mid-1990s.

              They sucked in the 1980s, too.

              They sucked in the ’70s.

              And they still suck.

              SC sucks.

          3. If SC’s acceptance rate is lower, my guess is that they’re counting it funny.

            If more people want to pay twice as much for lower quality, that’s more than just a little counterintuitive.

            And over the long term? Yeah, if SC matches UCLA in the rankings, it makes the news–since, until recently, UCLA has beaten SC in the rankings “every year since 1983”.


            1. “If SC’s acceptance rate is lower, my guess is that they’re counting it funny.”

              I bet they’re marketing themselves heavily to foreign students in Asia–as a substitute for all the ones who couldn’t get into UCLA.

            2. Oh, and my understanding is that they sometimes count people who turn them down after they see the price or choose another school as “rejected”, too.

    2. SC tries to make a point of seeming like they’re exclusive–rather than just expensive.

      And besides, with the neighborhood SC is in (especially the way it was back in the ’70s and ’80s), if newly entered students got into a gun fight on campus, it’d just blend in with the rest of the community.

      To find a more expensive school in a more crime ridden neighborhood, you’d have to go to the University of Pennsylvania or Columbia.

      1. William Mitchell College of Law.

      2. To find a more expensive school in a more crime ridden neighborhood, you’d have to go to the University of Pennsylvania or Columbia.

        Jesus Christ, you’re a fossil. There’s nothing wrong with the neighborhoods of either of those schools. You should have said “Temple and Fordham” so you wouldn’t look like such a codger.

        1. You must be used to living in some really shitty areas.

          I used to live in some shitty areas, too, but I never pretended they weren’t shitty.

          Maybe they’re not shitty compared to each other?

          1. I’m plenty familiar with the shitty parts of both of those cities, I’ve spent enough time in each. You’re just way off base: Penn’s right next to Center City and Columbia’s in Morningside Heights, neither are dangerous to either residents or tourists. Both are in parts of town that have gentrified pretty heavily in the last decade plus. It’s not 1997 anymore.

    3. Still looking for the original LA Times articles, maybe Matt Welch has clippings he can scan and post?

      Found this, ’twas on 17 JAN 1969, a shootout over who would lead the black studies program.

      I recall in the original articles, the UCLA staff were, let us say, not quick to judge. In “fairness” they had spent a lot of effort in recruiting students from street gangs who had not completed high school and plopping them into a nurturing environment. They were quite “understanding” of the way some people handled disputes in creative ways.

      1. Apropos of absolutely nothing, I was exactly ten days old when that happened.

  4. I met a girl who worked on the newspaper for the local university. She’d recently been promoted to third- or fourth-in-charge after a few years working as a copy editor, and reported to a newly appointed editor-in-chief, another twenty-something girl (Christ almighty the hyphens) who, besides being young, cavalier, and thoroughly capricious about her new authority, was batshit crazy. The degree of latitude invested in such a young, untried mind resulted in frequent loggerheads much like Taranto’s experience. At least, they did as of the last time I spoke to my friend. She later quit.

    Anyway, this Rawitch woman reminds me of my friend’s former boss: taking a stand on a non-issue to assert dominance for no better reason than incidentally being left out of the loop, and hiding behind administration’s skirts when her editors dare respond. From a student in her twenties, it’s a foreseeable consequence. From what I can only assume is a substantially older professor, it’s pathetic. Discretion is a valuable journalistic tool, but what about standing behind your published content?

    1. Anyway, this Rawitch woman reminds me of my friend’s former boss: taking a stand on a non-issue to assert dominance for no better reason than incidentally being left out of the loop, and hiding behind administration’s skirts when her editors dare respond.

      The gf is taking some “intro to Higher Ed” grad course this summer as she works as an advisor and will (Jesus wept) probably need to get a Masters degree to get a job in the same field if we were to move. She is just now realizing the sorts of toadies that go into Higher Ed on purpose.

      1. Higher education and, from the look of it, journalism, too. Mom works as a high school English teacher and routinely butts heads with administration over some pissant’s piss-poor grades. Administration almost always comes down on the parents’ side, authorizing the kid’s transfer to another classroom. The same breed of toadies seem to end up in senior managerial positions with depressing regularity. The risk-aversion whilst succoring to proglodytes is infuriating in either case.

        1. I may have doomed the gf’s higher ed career by jumping in when she said she didn’t give a shit about the FedGov’s involvement in higher ed and didn’t want to answer a question in an online quiz. I gave her 200 words to edit into her own voice about putting institutions of higher ed on the hook for non-performing student loans. She will definitely be on a watchlist.

          1. Dude! She’s pursuing a master’s and has to recoup the cost by playing their game! You monster!

            1. Actually, she’s employed by the University, so wasting their free tuition sowing doubt in the ranks is pretty much a BuSab mission.

              1. Well, then, carry on.

  5. {sarcasm}
    I’m sorry, but the offended minorities failed to behead anybody. If you can’t be bothered to lop off somebody’s head then you just can’t be taken seriously by the journalistic community.

    If on the other hand some cartoonist or editor was buried in pieces, then this kind of image would still be banned, in order to protect the sensibilities of the self evidently aggrieved minorities.

  6. They argued that demand constituted a taking, which would entitle them to compensation under the Fifth Amendment. The court ruled in the Nolans’ favor. The decision, written by a young Antonin Scalia, was 5-4, with the most liberal justices in dissent.

    Wasn’t that a case in which conservatives sided with individual rights and liberals with authority? No, Devol answered, because property is a kind of authority. It was an exasperating response. But while we still think Devol was wrongheaded about liberals, conservatives and individual rights, it seems to us he was on to something in equating property and authority.

    You are free to graze in the common pastures with the other sheep. So long as you remain powerless, you have the left on your side.

    1. If property is a kind of authority, is asceticism the ultimate form of anti-authoritarianism? Because I have no problem taking Professor Devol’s property off his hands if it advances his liberal cause.

      1. I had the same conversation with a left anarchist back in college who didn’t believe in private property. It was merely a pose. When I told him I was going to fuck his hot girlfriend he objected on grounds that sounded like he considered her his property to me.

        1. Tom Woods makes a point about early American anarchists and their persistent theme of marital abolition. But I suppose it’s a little crass of us to compare marriage and property, since marriage is a legally recognized right to exclude others whilst property rights are legally recognized rights to… exclude others. Oh, dear.

  7. Taranto is a notorious web censor in his own right-

    Nothing critical of his factually challenged webpage gets past this self appointed electronic gatekeeper , but I’ve seen him swear to a room full of journalists that it’s an open forum .

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.