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Rutgers investigating parody newspaper with pro-Hitler column

April 11, 2012

NEW JERSEY — The April Fools’ issue of Rutgers University’s satirical newspaper has prompted backlash from the university’s president, all thanks to a fake editorial titled “What about the good things Hitler did?”

“Federal courts extend broad protection to student media,” Rutgers President Richard McCormick wrote in a statement. “However, a recent article in The Medium, purporting to be written by student Aaron Marcus and using Mr. Marcus' photograph, is extremely offensive and repugnant. No individual student should be subject to such a vicious, provocative and hurtful piece, regardless of whether First Amendment protections apply to such expression.”

Every year, The Medium publishes an April Fools’ issue where it takes on the appearance of The Daily Targum, a traditional student newspaper. Like every year, The Medium impersonates a Targum columnist — this year, it was Aaron Marcus, an outspoken Jew with pro-Isreali and conservative views.

The Medium’s editorial copied the style of Marcus’ regular column in The Daily Targum, titled “Marcus My Words.” The column printed in The Medium states Hitler should be thanked for his genocide because it “inspired” the survivors to “move to Palestine and establish it as the homeland of the Jewish People,” among other outlandish statements. Marcus did not write the column.

Marcus, a junior, filed a “bias complaint” with the university Thursday, the day after The Medium’s April Fools’ issue.

Rutgers spokesman E.J. Miranda said through email that the university is investigating the event as a bias incident. The event will only warrant discipline if it violates laws or portions of the student conduct code. Instead, it may prompt “discussion or education” on how such events affect students, faculty and staff.

Miranda forwarded information found on the webpage for Rutgers’ Bias Prevention & Education Committee. According to a flyer on the webpage, BPEC is designed to “stop hate,” advising students and faculty, “There is no such thing as ‘free’ speech. All speech has costs and consequences.”

The Medium was also targeted by McCormick in 2004 for a cartoon satirizing the Holocaust. According to a 2004 press release, McCormick met with The Medium editors to discuss “the responsibilities of editorial judgment that must accompany the defense of First Amendment rights.”

Medium Editor-in-Chief Amy DiMaria submitted to the Targum a letter to the editor, in which she justifies the Medium’s decision, explaining it was not meant to be anti-Semitic. Instead, it was meant to parody Marcus, who the paper deemed to be a public figure.

“Through research of Aaron’s work,” DiMaria wrote, “a Medium writer was able to accurately mimic Aaron’s writing style, from his tendency to have straightforward, provoking titles in his column to the casual, approachable style of writing he prefers to use. The writer also intended the use of provoking subject matter to parody Marcus’ continued use of subjects many University students do not find popular.”

In May 2011, Marcus appeared on Glenn Beck, where he said he has been threatened with violence and legal action for his views.

In another YouTube video, Marcus claims he uses the column to “monitor the anti-Israel movement on campus.” He said he feels his right to free speech was harmed when a professor encouraged students to speak out against him.

Medium faculty adviser Ron Miskoff said he’s not concerned legally for The Medium because Marcus’ high-profile activism places him in a public light and because of the paper’s 20-year run as satire.

“It’s well-known that this is a parody satire issue, week after week, and it even states it in the masthead,” Miskoff said. “So it’s pretty clear to everyone on campus.”

Like most college newspapers, Miskoff, as the adviser, does not see the paper before it is published. He has been approached by the editors for advice on controversial issues or potential legal problems before publishing, but this was not one of those times.

Miskoff also said he doesn’t see the university being anti-Jew; in fact, he said the Jewish presence and influence has grown on campus in recent years, including the construction of a Chabad house and the growth of many Jewish student organizations.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said he doesn’t think The Medium is legally in trouble. The entire paper was satirical — including an ad for “Victor’s Secret” with scantily clad, buff men and several poorly doctored photos.

However, LoMonte added that the paper might be pushing the boundaries too far, even if it isn’t breaking the law.

“Even though they’re probably safe,” he said, “Holocaust jokes are just never funny.”

By Nick Glunt, SPLC staff writer

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© 2012 Student Press Law Center

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