By: M.L. Stein
Vandals are getting away with it because authorities seem to think it’s no crime to snatch free papers and toss them in dumpsters sp.
STEALING AND TRASHING student newspapers appears to be the current campus craze, according to panelists at a journalism educations’ conference in Atlanta.
And its popularity, they said, can be attributed, in large part, to the fact that the thieves and vandals are getting away with it because authorities seem to think it’s no crime to snatch a few hundred free newspapers and toss them in a dumpster.
Why? Because the culprits don’t like what’s printed in a particular issue.
The panel, “”Confrontations with Campus Media: Politically Correct Expression and the First Amendment,”” gathered at the 77th annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in Atlanta.
Mark Goodman, a lawyer who is executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C., reported 38 instanced of campus newspaper rip-offs around the country in the 1993-94 academic year. The colleges and universities included Duke, Johns Hopkins, East Texas State, Nebraska, Stanford, Maryland, Ohio State, Brandeis, Northeastern, Michigan, Midland Lutheran and Alabama.
At Johns Hopkins, a cartoon about racial separatism on campus, provoked the theft of 1,400 copies of the News-Letter. University administrators deplored the action but no one was charged.
The Gateway at Nebraska has been repeatedly stolen from campus bins since October of last year. The staff said about half the press run-4,000 copies-were taken in bunches on a bi-weekly basis. The editors through the removal was related to a disgruntled student government candidate, who blamed his election defeat on the paper’s backing of his opponent.
Between 2,500 and 3,000 copies of the Stanford Review, a conservative paper, were lifted from bins in front of the student center. The editor, who said she knew of no reason for the theft, reported it to the university police and Judicial Affairs Office, but there were no suspects.
The Justice at Brandeis reported the disappearance of 2,000-3,000 copies of an issue that contained a Holocaust revisionist advertisement.
At El Camino Community College in Torrance, Calif., a professor was seen taking over 1,000 copies of the Warwhoop, which ran a story about his removal from teaching a class.
Goodman said several lootings involved racial sensitivities but noted, “”It’s not just a black and white issue.””
He recalled that the Holocaust ad touched off a newspaper theft at the University of Miami, Fla., and that other seizures were triggered by stories about seizures were triggered by stories about a student being expelled for sexual misonduct, chemical dumping on campus and an editorial criticizing the student government president.
The lawyer, who terms newspaper pilfering “”the new censorship,”” said that arresting the culprits is difficult because “”prosecutors don’t know how to proceed in such cases. There are no legal precedents and it’s difficult to show criminal intent”” in the theft of free papers.
He said the Student Press Law Center found that a Louisiana case of student newspaper larceny was thrown out of court when the judge ruled it was a “”college prank.””
Another panelist, Pat McKeand, adisor to the Sagamore at Indiana University, Indianapolis, said he and other advisors have found a way to make prosecution easier: Post notices at the racks that the first copy is free but the rest are $5 each. “”Then we are no longer talking about free papers,”” he stated.
Mckenad, who previously was editor of the Anderson (Ind.) Herald for 12 years, said he was faced with a massive paper theft and trashing in the first semester of his advisorship. It was, he explained, sparked by a photo showing a white campus cop frisking a black student for drugs. The student was not arrested.
The advisor, who was off campus when the student editor decided to run the picture, said publishing the picture was “”bad judgment”” and he would have recommended against using it. But he still had to take heat for it.
When he discussed the matter with the university chancellor, “”the first thing he said to me was ‘How do we get rid of this editor?”” Mckenad related.
A student group marched to the chancellor’s office, demanding the editor’s resignation. Mckeand said he sought to convince the official that robbing papers presented a First Amendment issue.
The editor kept his job but the Sagamore published an apology, Mckenad said. “”Our attitude was that this was a learning experience,”” he commented.
Still, Mckeand asserted that the wave of “”political correctness”” sweeping campuses bodes ill for press freedom.
He related the Indiana incident to his experience as a consultant to a newspaper in Zagreb in the former Yugoslavia, after the fall of communism.
“Those journalists were so excited about freedom,”” he said. “”Under the old regime, everything they wrote was politically correct. The pendulum seems to be swinging the other ay here.””
Goodman agreed that charging for additional single copies-even 25?- could be on step in assuring newspapers becomes a criminal act.
“We have to get the message out that newspaper theft is a crime,”” he declared.
Goodman said civil lawsuit for damages might be another method of discouraging perpetrators.
“This matter is fundamental to what press freedom is all about,”” he said.