Across the country, newspaper thefts abound

Thieves say First Amendment protects their right to steal; newspaper editors and staff call it illegal censorship

\nNewspaper theft has no boundaries as the trend seems to occur\non campuses public and private, in suburbs and cities.

In protest to campus newspaper content, coverage or even reporter\ntreatment, disgruntled students are taking it upon themselves\nto censor the newspaper by stealing many issues, sometimes even\nthe entire press run, costing the publication thousands of dollars\nin reprinting costs and lost advertising revenue.

Some of these students argue that it is their First Amendment\nright to freedom of speech to take piles of the campus paper from\ndistribution sites if they so choose. Others just do it in outrage\nand disagreement with the paper, its content or its policies.

Many of these thefts, though sometimes investigated, go unresolved.

"It's unfortunate, but [newspaper theft] seems to be a\npopular way to get attention when a student has a complaint,"\nsaid Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law\nCenter. "And it maintains its popularity and frequency because\nso rarely do newspaper thieves face significant punishment."

The editor of The Georgetown Voice in Washington, D.C.,\nsummed up the ideal solution in an editorial she wrote following\nthe theft of nearly an entire press run of an issue in February.\nStealing issues is not the appropriate way to resolve the problem,\nshe said. Letters to the editor, opinion columns and other such\nprinted items are the correct course of action.

Nearly 5,000 issues of the Feb. 25 Georgetown Voice\nwere stolen sometime between midnight and 9 a.m. on Friday, Feb.\n26, according to Voice editor in chief Nicole Gesualdo.\nThe Voice is one of at least four publications produced\non Georgetown's campus. One other publication, the Georgetown\nAcademy, has also dealt with the theft issue this year; 3,500\ncopies of its Oct. 9 issue disappeared from stands upon distribution,\nallegedly in protest to two controversial articles criticizing\na school program encouraging tolerance towards gay men and women.

The only papers that remained of the 8,000-issue Voice\npress run were located in buildings that had been locked overnight.\nAt many sites, all of the Feb. 25 issues had been removed, but\nthe Feb. 18 issues were still there in the Voice's designated\nracks, according to an article in The Hoya, another Georgetown\nstudent newspaper.

Unlike with the October theft of the Academy, the university\nDepartment of Public Safety has launched an investigation into\nthe Voice theft. To date, the campus police have failed\nto take action on the Academy theft, according to Manuel\nMiranda, legal counsel to the Academy. He noted that the\ncampus police had taken a report and found a student guard who\nwitnessed a resident director stealing stacks of the Academy,\nbut did not interview the student guard.

In a letter posted on the Voice's Web site, Gesualdo\nwrote, "The copies' disappearance has led The Voice\nstaff to believe that they were taken not by regular readers,\nbut by one or more individuals who wanted to keep them out of\npublic sight."

On March 3, a free speech forum was held by the dean of students,\nand was attended by many professors, faculty and students at Georgetown.

Rev. Leo O'Donovan, president of the university, said during\nthe forum that actions such as removing newspapers from campus\ndistribution sites "violates the ethos" of a Catholic\nuniversity such as Georgetown. O'Donovan said the best response\nto controversial speech is "more speech, not censorship."

Issues covered in the Feb. 25 Voice in question include\neditorials criticizing the Turkish government and advocating sex\neducation at the school, as well as a critique of musician Dave\nMatthews, and an anonymous letter describing the nomination of\na student to the Second Society of Stewards, an all-male secret\nsociety at Georgetown.

The content of the entire Feb. 25 issue is available on their\nweb site at

In the Dec. 7 issue of U.S. News and World Report, Georgetown\nPresident Rev. Leo O'Donovan was recognized by columnist John\nLeo for "looking outward when one campus paper loses most\nof its copies and the other campus paper loses most of its principles."\nThe "judges'" final decision to present the award to\nO'Donovan came when the Hoya applauded the Academy's theft.

In Kansas, a few hundred issues of Emporia State's April Fool's\nDay satire were taken and burned in protest, according to the\nstaff member in charge of the edition.

Cynthia Price said that the April 1 edition of The Bulletin\nwas the first time in 70 years that the paper had put out a satirical\nversion of itself.

As its front page story, it ran an article stating that the\nequal opportunity clause dealing with sexual orientation had been\nreinstated. The clause was removed by the campus president last\nsummer at the advice of university attorneys.

The campus president is the first female president at a regent\nschool in the entire state, said Price.

A staff writer on the paper, who had covered the sexual orientation\nclause issue for the paper, said that on the evening of April\n1, a university official asked a student to pick up as many issues\nof the April Fool's edition as he could. He and a friend got two\nbookbags' worth, or several hundred papers by Price's estimate.\nThe paper only prints 2,000 issues.

The official then asked the men to burn the papers, according\nto Price.

Price said the university officials in question had made no\nofficial contact with the newspaper. She said that the president\nhad spoken with the chair of the English department, where the\nBulletin's adviser works, and was very upset over the issue.

The day of the April Fool's issue the local newspaper covered\nthe story. In the article it was reported that the cover story\n"in no way reflected the administration's beliefs."

Another from of humor caused problems for a student newspaper\nin Ohio. In protest to a comic strip that many felt was demeaning\nto women and the women's studies department on campus, at least\n15,000 copies of a daily campus student newspaper were stolen\nin February.

Nearly the whole press run of the Ohio State Lantern's Feb.\n17 issue were confiscated, allegedly by "campus feminists,"\naccording to Lantern opinion editor Nathan Crabbe.

The particular "Stillman" strip that is under protest,\nwhich ran the day before the thefts, gave a "sneak preview"\nfor Halloween 1999. In all three frames were drawings of the same\nwitch, and under each frame were different captions: "The\nWitch Costume," "The Hag Costume" and "The\nWomen's Studies Major Costume."

Outraged, about 20 women held a protest in the center of campus\nthe day of the thefts. According to a Feb. 18 Lantern article,\nthe thefts and the protest were organized separately. The article\nsaid that the protesters in fact objected to the removal of the\npapers from distribution sites, stating it undermined their belief\nin an open forum for diverse opinions.

The stolen press run contained between $5,000 and $6,000 worth\nof advertising, according to Lantern Business Director\nRay Catalino.

Crabbe, in an e-mail, said that one of the protesters told\nhim that it was "part of her First Amendment rights"\nto steal the newspapers.

A campus feminist group, the Feminist Majority, distributed\nfliers all over campus asking, "Why do we accept a paper\nthat doesn't respect diversity?" The group also encouraged\nstudents to protest the Lantern.

The "Stillman" series was canceled the day after\nthe newspaper thefts. In defense of his work, "Stillman"\ncreator Bob Hewitt, a sophomore, said that the protesters are\ntaking the cartoon too seriously.

"As far as I am concerned, it looks like [the protesters]\nare looking for diversity, minus my opinion," said Hewitt.\n"Obviously I had no intention of offending anyone, and I\nthink the average reader sees that."

The Feminist Majority at Ohio State won a "Polly,"\nawarded by the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute,\nfor its actions in February. Pollys are given out to the top five\n"politically correct" campus outrages.

An inter-staff controversy in New York resulted in a newspaper\ntheft incident at a private school. In an act of despair over\nbeing removed from a story, a former reporter for The Bonaventure\nat St. Bonaventure University stole nearly the entire press-run\nof the Feb. 5 issue.

The incident began in early February, when a reporter for the\nweekly publication began covering a story involving a baseball\nplayer and a brawl he had been involved in. Editor in chief Elizabeth\nTascione discovered that the reporter she had covering the story\nwas a close friend of the baseball player and decided with her\nmanaging editor to take her off of it.

Because she had quotes from eyewitnesses and had been at the\nscene herself, Tascione said she allowed the original reporter\nto work with another writer on the piece. The reporter was also\nforbidden to speak to anyone to find out more information for\nthe article.

An arraignment was held for the baseball player's involvement\nin the fight, and Bonaventure news editor Heather Youngman\nwrote a follow-up story and ran it, along with a photo of the\nstudent, on the front page of the Feb. 5 issue. The original reporter\nwas not included in the writing of the follow-up article.

Tascione said that she had an eyewitness report that the reporter\nand a friend had been seen "fuming" about the article\nwhile in the student center on campus. They were also seen carrying\na pile of newspapers, as well as going around and collecting issues\nfrom students under the auspices that a page was missing from\nthe publication.

Tascione filed a report that day with Security Services on\ncampus that the entire day's press run of about 2,500 issues had\nbeen stolen. Security Services then wrote a report to the director\nof resident life, who in turn forwarded a recommendation for judicial\naction to the Vice President of Student Life George Solan.

Tascione, after filing the report, decided to press campus\ndisciplinary charges.

The reporter and the other student accused of stealing the\npapers were both charged with theft and inappropriate conduct.

At their arraignment on Feb. 11, both women were found not\nresponsible for the theft, but the reporter was found responsible\nfor inappropriate conduct. As a result, the reporter has been\nsuspended from any journalistic program on campus through January\n2000 and is on university probation until that time as well. She\nalso paid a $25 fine and received a written reprimand, which was\nforwarded to her adviser and the Dean of Journalism/Mass Communications,\naccording to Tascione.

In Arkansas, a resident director for a dorm on the University\nof Central Arkansas campus admitted in March to throwing away\nat least one pile of the student newspaper, The Echo, in\nprotest of an earlier column he disagreed with.

In a meeting with newspaper editors and the columnist, where\nthe original goal was to discuss the controversial column, the\nresident director admitted he had thrown away at least one day's\nissue to express his discontent.

"I won't forbid my residents from having it [The Echo]\nin the building, but I won't have it in my lobby," the resident\ndirector said during the Mar. 12 meeting with the paper's editor,\nTracy McMurtry, and adviser, Ernie Dumas.

Staff writer Justin Petruccelli said he spoke with both the\nuniversity counsel and police captain about the act, and both\nagreed it was illegal. Capt. Glenn Stacks said, "He doesn't\nown that building." He also noted that a few years earlier,\na similar incident had occurred.

Petruccelli said he then went to the Housing Office, where\nhe met with uncooperative people who were likewise upset with\nthe overall content of the paper.

"They were halfway justifying the situation, and didn't\nseem to want to help me," Petruccelli said.

He consulted University Counsel Melissa Rust for help, who\nin turn contacted the Housing Office herself and got them to make\nsure the thefts would no longer occur.

The resident director, along with the resident assistants in\nhis dorm, organized a forum to discuss whether or not the content\nof the paper was agreeable to students, which was to include a\nvote to see if The Echo would even be allowed to be delivered\nto Arkansas Hall, the dorm in question.

The original advertisement called for a forum to be attended\nby numerous groups including the SGA, the Housing Office as well\nas staff from The Echo. Petruccelli said no one on the\npaper's staff had ever been contacted to attend and were not planning\nto sit on the panel.

The flier also called for everyone to attend a bonfire afterwards,\n"to watch the Echo burn."

The Echo staff saw the poster and editor McMurtry requested\nthat it be changed. A resident assistant did create a new flier,\nand a newspaper representative did attend the forum as an observer.\nPetruccelli said that overall it was a positive forum, and that\nthe resident director "made good on his promise" to\nmake sure no comments bashing the paper were allowed.

In Virginia, two women were sentenced to 100 hours of community\nservice each for stealing two cars and 1,500 issues of the Ring-Tum\nPhi, one of Washington and Lee University's student newspapers.

Sophomores Ellen Elliot and Stephanie Fortener were sentenced\non two separate counts in February: unauthorized use of a vehicle\nand petty larceny. The petty larceny charge was reduced from a\ngrand larceny charge.

On Oct. 1, the women stole two vehicles from an auto body shop\nnear the Lexington campus. They were arrested and charged with\nthe crime, and two newspaper reporters went after the story.

In their reporting, they tried numerous times to reach the\nwomen, who would not return their calls or answer the phone. The\nstaff placed the write-up about the arrest at the top of the news\nsection.

On Oct. 12, when the papers were expected to arrive for distribution,\nexecutive editor Tarah Grant said there were hardly any issues\nleft at the distribution site.

It was later discovered that Elliot and Fortener had taken\nnearly all 1,500 copies of the paper and had thrown them in a\ndumpster behind a restaurant.

Along with the vehicle larceny charge, Elliot and Fortener\nboth pleaded guilty to a petty larceny charge for the newspaper\ntheft.

Elliot and Fortener, who no longer attend the school, were\nboth placed on advisement for the unauthorized use of a vehicle\ncharge, and must reappear in the Lexington court on Feb. 7, 2000,\nand prove that they have not engaged in any other illegal activities\nsince their sentencing.

Students at Frostburg State University in Maryland allegedly\nstole almost every copy of the school's weekly newspaper, The\nBottom Line. According to Sara Mullins, director of student\npublications, the lead story of the April 14 issue was about a\nrecent drug bust involving eight students.

Mullins said more issues were printed and distributed the following\nday. The total loss for the paper was $300, and the theft has\nbeen reported to campus police, according to Mullins. \n

reports, Spring 1999