Thursday, October 04, 2007

Defining graphic 

A group of students on campus organizes themselves as "Friends for Life", with the purpose of educating students about the costs of abortion. They are able to obtain funding towards that mission and have inserts they wish to place in the campus newspaper, and so they approach the newspaper to buy the right to include them. The inserts were refused last year and again this year. The story next is unedited except to remove the name of the editor at the newspaper, and was mailed to me by David Brix, who leads Friends for Life. In his words:

In the past, the group had been granted permission by the paper and the literature was run with no complications. However, the next year the very same insert was rejected with no reasons given by the paper. Answers as to why were refused to FFL members despite the fact that FFL is a paying client of The Chronicle.

This year FFL tried again, but with a new insert; however, that too was rejected. The reason the insert was rejected was because it was considered too graphic for a college audience. The problem with the denial is the inconsistency of The Chronicle. On Thursday September 20, the paper had run an insert of a provocative looking underwear model in volume 84 number 5. Many found this image to be graphic and offensive; but, it was considered acceptable for college students to see.

Both images are graphic. To be sure you agree to see them, I've uploaded them separately and provide a link to the Armani Exchange and the Human Life Alliance (HLA) photos. I have copies of both of the HLA inserts that were rejected, as well as the Armani insert.

Brix also relates an exchange with an editor (whose name and phone number I am redacting, I'll explain why in a moment):

Last Thursday I brought the HLA insert down to the Chronicle office and gave it to [an editor]. She told me that usually anything is appropriate but they have to take a look at political based ads. She told me she would have to check with the editor. She called me back that afternoon and left me this voice mail:

�Hi David, this is [redacted] from the University Chronicle�a�replying about the inserts for Friends for Life. I showed it to our editor and we are not going to be able to run this, some of the pictures are just too graphic and� that�s just kind of how�just kind of�how we do things. So if you have any questions please feel free to call me back the number here is 320-308-nnnn. Thanks, bye�.

Now go back and look at the pictures. The picture the editor refused is certainly graphic. It is meant to provoke, to raise one's emotions, in order to make a political point. The other picture, the Armani picture, is meant to provoke, to raise one's emotions, to make a commercial point. Ask yourself: Which kind of provocative speech is the First Amendment intended to protect?

Understand too, that nobody -- not the Friends for Life group, nor me -- would ask the Chronicle to censor the Armani ad.

The Chronicle has of course run ads before that have been provocative and political. It ran a scurrilous article attacking a member of the faculty and former dean, promised to investigate its failure to research it properly, and then ran away from the research when it was apparent the paper would end up not looking good. It is not beyond running a cartoon praising a male Homecoming Queen. The paper once included an insert from a person who wanted to provoke a reaction by denying the Holocaust. Perhaps that experience so affected the paper and its adviser that now they are checking anything not clearly commercial for content. Yet when it makes a point that might be politically correct, like supporting the Homecoming Queen, or commercially expedient, like taking money for a commercial ad, they aren't checking. Notice again what Brix said:
She told me that usually anything is appropriate but they have to take a look at political based ads. She told me she would have to check with the editor.
This is inimical to a free press, and it is inimical to a campus newspaper in a university (and advised by a department) that trumpets its commitment to the First Amendment.

I do not blame that particular editor for the rejection of the HLA ad -- which is why I do not want to name her or give out a phone number. And turnover at a campus newspaper is quite high, of course, since students graduate, so the current staff cannot be held responsible for any of the other problems I've named for the Chronicle. You have to look for the one constant.

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