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Copies of Michigan student newspaper trashed after story about ousted fraternity

April 23, 2014

MICHIGAN — Students at Central Michigan University are sharing on Twitter their plans to destroy copies of the student newspaper, and in one case, someone posted a photograph of a paper being set on fire.

Approximately several hundred copies of the Central Michigan Life disappeared from the campus between Monday morning and Tuesday night, said David Clark, the paper’s adviser. Judging from the posts online, an article published Monday about a suspended fraternity provoked the thefts.

Police have been “very cooperative” and are investigating, Clark said.

On three occasions, a Central Michigan Life news rack in the journalism building was emptied, with copies placed in nearby disposal bins. Elsewhere on campus, news racks seemed unusually vacant, said editor-in-chief Justin Hicks.

Monday, the newspaper published a controversial story about the suspended fraternity Delta Chi, which was ousted by the university for four years last October. In one incident, a Delta Chi member took photos of his genitalia on a woman’s cellphone and emailed the pictures to her parents, the newspaper reported.

Along with the story, the paper published an editorial criticizing fraternity members for “a continued lack of cooperation,” which he said had hindered the newspaper’s coverage.

“I called these guys out for refusing to talk to us,” Hicks said. “That’s when people started getting really mad about it.”

In addition to the stolen and vandalized newspapers, a Central Michigan alumnus and former Delta Chi membered threatened online to “bitch slap” Hicks, he said.

At least some of the newspapers were grabbed up by members of other fraternities. A Beta Theta Pi member, Griffith Gatewood, tweeted a photo of a stack of newspapers with the words “Thanks for the bonfire material.” (The tweet has since been removed, and Gatewood has made his account private.)

Another user posted a photo of the newspaper being set on fire. (“Can’t think of a better way to start the grill. Thanks @CMLIFE!” the tweet said.) The account holder did not respond when asked to comment, and the tweet was removed shortly after.

In an email, Gatewood declined taking the stack of newspapers shown in the photograph he posted.

“I didn't even take the newspapers," he wrote. "I merely took a photo of a stack of them that I thought was funny.”

Gatewood declined to comment further, deferring to chapter president Dave Kobel.

Kobel said his fraternity picked up about 50 copies, collectively, to discuss at a chapter meeting, but it was not meant as censorship. The articles were intended for reading, he said, and the bonfire tweets were "overblown" jokes.

“I guess you could say that we’re sorry,” Kobel said. “We didn’t mean any poor intentions with the tweet. That’s not intention.”

Clark said the paper estimates a loss of “hundreds of dollars” in printing and advertising costs.

This is the fourth newspaper theft reported to the Student Press Law Center in 2014. Last year, 12 thefts were reported.

Updated 4/24 to include screenshots of tweets that were deleted after the story was originally published.

By Rex Santus, SPLC staff writer. Contact Santus by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 119.

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© 2014 Student Press Law Center

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