Free speech is protected by the First Amendment. Laziness is not.
Which is the reason staffers of student publications at universities everywhere should object to the Rocky Mountain Collegian editorial board’s decision to print a four-word editorial reading “Taser this … F*** Bush” on Sept. 21.
Of course editor in chief J. David McSwane had every ‘right’ to approve the editorial. He is protected by both the U.S. Bill of Rights and his natural right to verbally express his thoughts and feelings without hurting others. And publishing a newspaper editorial, however half-baked it may have been, obviously can’t physically harm anybody.
What McSwane did, however, was violate his own newspaper’s code of ethics, which bars the publication of profanity on the opinion pages.
He also intentionally lowered the bar for political discourse. That alone should have been cause enough for his resignation.
Instead of using an excellent opportunity to convince readers of the invalidity of Bush’s policies, he squandered it with his cheap use of profanity.
Rather than changing minds and driving his readers to act for political reform, he created empty controversy, accomplishing no lasting effect.
At the most basic level, the Collegian’s editorial should not have been published because it failed to accomplish what an editorial should: make a sound argument.
That’s not to say that the definition of ‘sound’ means that most people should agree with it.
On the contrary, an editorial can be well thought, well researched and reported and well written, and still generate uproar and fury among many of its readers.
But the point is that a good editorial – which is said to reflect the opinion of the group of people running the paper – actually makes a statement and defends it so its readers may respond in disagreement or agreement.
Ideally, such an editorial generates an interest in politics or current events – in the case of a college paper, happenings on campus – and leads people to analyze, discuss and react in such a way that the nation, community or campus is better off in the end.
“F*** Bush” does not and cannot do this.
McSwane nevertheless defended his decision in a tone that touted him as a virtual martyr of journalism, writing: “I’m only 20, but I feel I’ve been in this business for decades,” and saying his decision was “having the courage to speak up when things really matter, even when it’s unpopular.”
It appears McSwane’s definition of courageous doesn’t stray from criticizing an unpopular president in a crude way.
McSwane’s decision, unsurprisingly, didn’t push the ideological envelope in any way, nor did it foster meaningful discussion. Simply put, McSwane ran poor copy by approving the editorial. Although he was not fired, he should have resigned for the sake of his newspaper’s quality and the
intellectual development of its readership.