Thieves swipe papers over controversial stories, ads


Conservative Georgetown publication one of several hit hardin campus heists





WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nearly 3,000 copies of The Georgetown Academy, a student paper at Georgetown University, were stolen Oct. 8.

Thieves are thought to have struck the school’s conservative newspaper because of two controversial articles that were published in the edition.

One of the opinion pieces criticized the thought behind a new school program designed to encourage school tolerance towards gay men and women while the other article called for the resignation of the school’s president because of, among other reasons, his support of the gay tolerance program.

An Oct. 13 letter written by J. Brooken Smith, publisher of the Academy, which was sent to Georgetown University President Leo J. O’Donovan, urged the president to make a public statement “repudiating the removal of any publication by anyone” and to allow the newspaper to distribute a second printing of the paper under university employee protection.

“We have every expectation that you will stand firmly on the matter,” read the letter. “We too will not tolerate this situation and intend to reprint the October issue as many times as necessary.”

One of the editorials in the stolen issue criticized the school’s Safe Zone Program, which, in part, encourages school teachers and students to display stickers as a show of support for gays and lesbians.

“At first glance, the Safe Zone may appear to be nothing more than an attempt to make everybody, particularly gay men and women, feel comfortable on campus,” read the piece. “But in my judgment, the sticker will do nothing but divide us….”

The other editorial criticized O’Donovan for his support of the program, as well as his “inordinately poor judgment.”

On Oct. 23, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and the Student Press Law Center sent a joint letter to President O’Donovan calling on him to condemn the theft.

“Protecting the free exchange of ideas is the most basic duty of a university president,” read the letter. “We emphatically call on you to meet you obligation to protect First Amendment freedoms on campus.”

When the letter was sent, Georgetown administrators had made no statement condemning the theft, and had not responded to Smith’s letter. By the next week, however, O’Donovan had prepared a written statement.

“I adamantly believe that students have the right to develop and distribute publications in accordance with our Speech and Expression Policy,” O’Donovan said. “Our Speech and Expression Policy is premised on the notion that dialogue and the free exchange of ideas are the lifeblood of an academic community.”

According to the letter, under the school’s policy, “all issuers of student publications – whether they are funded by the University or not – have the right…to distribute their materials in designated distribution sites.”

The Academy is not a school-funded publication.

The letter added that the president asked the dean of students to look into the theft and to “handle the matter as appropriate.”

Manuel Miranda, an attorney giving legal counsel to the paper, said the president’s statement was “useless” because it was only delivered to area newspapers and organizations, and not the people it effects most – the Georgetown campus.

“We’re very unsatisfied that the university has made no statement on campus,” Miranda said.

According to the attorney, the publication increased it’s distribution area for the second delivery of the issue to include several area think-tanks, and has since kept the same level of distribution. Furthermore, because of the publicity the paper has received both nationally and locally, Miranda said the Academy has earned enough money in donations to publish for approximately the next year.

Miranda said the paper may take legal action in the future to try and prosecute a university employee who was allegedly seen taking papers by a student witness.

In New York, a pro-life advertising insert is believed to be the primary motive behind the theft and burning of approximately 800 student newspapers at Ithaca College.

J. Michael Serino, adviser for The Ithacan, said their are no suspects in the incident, which occurred the weekend of Dec. 4-5. However, he said, “there were many vocal critics of the paper that week.”

According to the adviser, copies of the stolen edition and advertising inserts were burned in a public area by unidentified students the day before the theft, and several posters attacking the paper were posted in and around the communications building, where The Ithacan is housed.

Serino said following the incident, most of the papers were recovered from recycling bins in the area and redistributed. He also contacted the dean of the school of communications at the college to address the problem.

“[The dean] voiced his support for the paper’s right to publish controversial material,” wrote Serino in an e-mail. “Whether in the form of reporting, editorials, or advertising.”

The college president also issued a statement calling for all students to respect each others opinions, but declined to address the issue of burning and stealing papers directly, Serino said.

Newspaper theft at a West Virginia school not only censored the press, but led to the resignation of a newspaper adviser.

An estimated 110 copies of The Mercury, Glenville State College’s weekly student newspaper were stolen in late August. Terry Estep, production manager at the paper, said someone stole the papers in two waves: first out of two bins at the student union building, and then a couple days later from another bin. In the second incident, papers were placed in trash cans, while in the first incident, the perpetrator took them.

“Basically, I think it was an effort to kill the story,” said Estep. “As a censorship attempt, it was rather clumsy.”

The newspaper has a circulation of around 2,500.

The story that Estep believes inspired the thefts involved the school’s football team. According to the production manager, the newspaper published a story on the football team being sanctioned by its athletic conference for various recruiting and fundraising infractions.

The coverage was a follow-up of several stories and editorials that ran in the newspaper during the summer that criticized the football team, said Estep. At around the time of the theft, the football team’s coaches called some of the Mercury staffers into their office to discuss the publication’s reporting.

“The coaches were not very thrilled with the articles, and they called us into their office to ask the question: ‘Why are you picking on us?’” Estep said.

After the thefts occurred, Estep said a friend who worked at the student union told Estep he thought he saw a football coach taking copies of the paper the night of the first theft.

When questioned, Estep said football Coach Warren Ruggiero, the coach suspected of swiping the papers, told school officials he took only between five and seven papers for friends and family.

Following the incident, Estep said he talked to school administrators and contacted the Student Press Law Center to try and resolve the issue. The newspaper also took photos of several papers that were discarded in trash cans.

Later that same week, school and athletic officials, including Ruggiero, held a meeting to discuss the issue.

The gathering ended with administrators telling Estep that none of the accusations against Ruggiero could be proven, and therefore he could not be punished. Less than a month later, the paper’s newspaper adviser submitted a letter of resignation, citing frustration over the school’s approach to the situation.

“First and foremost, the issue of intimidation of student journalists, even if conducted in a cordial atmosphere, is not only immoral, but also illegal,” wrote John Rote, the former adviser for The Mercury.

Two Virginia students tried to cover up their alleged criminal activity when they stole about 1,500 copies of the student newspaper at Washington and Lee University in Lexington.

The two female students, both 19, were charged with grand larceny after they allegedly stole approximately 75 percent of The Ring-tum Phi circulation Oct. 12. The two are suspected of stealing the newspapers after a story ran regarding their apparent involvement with the theft of two cars from a local body shop.

Officials believe the two girls, angry over the front-page article, swiped the copies in an effort to quash the word from getting out about their misdeeds.

Police Sgt. Rick Sutton told the Associated Press that the newspapers ended up in a trash bin, where they were hauled off by a garbage truck. Student journalists at the paper were angry about the incident.

“You can’t just throw away an entire week’s issues because you don’t like a story, and then have your daddy send us a check,” Phi Executive Editor Tarah Grant told the Ring-tum Phi.


newspaper theft, reports, Winter 1998-99