Free speech effort fails

NW Staff and NW Staff

Colorado State University’s student newspaper, “The Rocky Mountain Collegian,” published an editorial on Sept. 21 titled, “Taser this. . .” Beneath the headline were two bold-typed words, about twice the size of a headline – “F**K BUSH.” In a letter published the same day, editor-in-chief J. David McSwane wrote that the editorial was intended to be commentary on the tasering of University of Florida student Andrew Meyer during a John Kerry speech one week earlier, as well as a commentary on the First Amendment. If what McSwane says is true, then he and his staff members at the Collegian fell well short of their intent.
The Collegian staff was obscure when it tried to relate Meyer’s tasering to the commander-in-chief, and it’s hard to imagine that many understood the editorial’s true meaning on first read. The Collegian editorial only brought unwanted attention to the student daily.
In the hours and days that followed, the campus was in an uproar; parents of CSU students considered pulling their children from the university, the newspaper lost $30,000 in advertising sales and McSwane was fighting for his job.
By the following Monday, the article had received more than 780 comments on the newspaper’s Web site, according to the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit organization that offers legal help to student media publications.
According to Mike Heistand, attorney and legal consultant to the SPLC, the Collegian was protected under law. However, Heistand conceded McSwane and his staff would learn a lesson from these events, and take more responsibility in what they print. Heistand added that, when using offensive speech like the Collegian did, the message could be off.
Although the McSwane’s statement is protected under the First Amendment, the editorial crossed the line of journalistic responsibility. The statement was bold, and while bold statements are applauded, it’s the responsibility of all journalists to back them up. Although the statement wasn’t obscene in the legal sense, it came off as careless and made the staff at “The Collegian” look impulsive, even if they were trying to bring forth the greater issue of free speech.
Student journalists should be aware of the responsibilities their positions put them in. Editorials need to be well thought out and researched, and an immature hasty reaction is never a substitute.