Wednesday, September 26
Notes from McSwane's hearing
I sat through the hearing of the CSU Board of Student Communications on the fate of Collegian editor J. David McSwane tonight. When I wasn't trying to guess the perspectives of backwards-hatted college kids, I mostly enjoyed the highlights and lowlights of people's comments about why McSwane is a free-speech hero worthy of anointment or a vulgar punk worthy of dismissal.
I was particularly disturbed that a hearing on journalistic ethics so often reverted to talk about financial repercussions -- for CSU media and the university in general. The paper's student ad director Lenay Snyder and Student Media Director Jeff Browne -- and then many of the commenters that followed -- said the four word editorial "Taser this...Fuck Bush" might cost the paper 18 advertisers, representing $50,000 in ad revenue. They then added that the Collegian and other media run on $950,000.
Never mind that the loss is about 5 percent of the total income stream, ad revenue shouldn't be a determining factor when discussing journalistic integrity or ethics; over at the Chronicle newsroom , where we also will use four-letter words when we deem appropriate, we never think about what is going to be best for our ad department. If we did, our paper would be filled with soft news, reworded press releases and advertorials, kinda like some other papers around town.
Another disturbing moment came when Larimer County Republican Party Chair Ed Haynes, who chose to self-identify himself as just a community member, complained that the show of support among some students for McSwane was politically motivated and obviously profane. His proof? "What would have been the reaction," asked Haynes, "if it read, "Taser this...Obama is a nigger."
The rhetorical question got showered with boos, the only time all night the crowd got ugly with a comment. Haynes was clearly mixing an outspoken political message with an ethnic slur, trying to pass them off as similar since both involved "curse" words, but it was a pretty shameful comment coming from the head of the local Republicans. And his supporters say he's a uniter, not a divider.
There were some kinda sound arguments about why McSwane should be reprimanded or fired, mostly for skirting some protocol and damaging paper credibility within its community of readers. But most people who spoke to the CSU media code of ethics reiterated that the editorial was within the rules.
The strongest comments, in my opinion, came from journalism prof Pam Jackson, who talked about hiring McSwane last year, knowing his background for challenging the status quo and being outspoken, and then standing by him now. Jackson ultimately agreed with Haynes: This ordeal had nothing to do with free speech, it has been politically motivated by people who are pissed that a student newspaper printed "Fuck Bush" in big caps and that doesn't mean anyone should get tossed. After all, Jackson said, she's offended by the giant photos of aborted fetuses that Christian youth groups display on campus every year, but those exhibitions are also protected and she respects the right, if not the cause. Then, she finished off by calling out the CSU Bookstore manager for pulling ads from the Collegian, which she called an obvious political power play.
A decision comes down from the board on Thursday and then we can all get on with our lives.