After reading the op-ed piece “Islam Sucks” in The South End, Wayne State University’s student-run newspaper, News Hits decided to put together a multiple-choice test for the university’s head honchos. But before administering the quiz, let us first review what just went down in Wayne’s world.
On Feb. 26, the paper printed a nasty, error-filled diatribe penned by Joe Fisher, a 19-year-old Wayne State student who regularly contributes to the student rag. Among other things, Fisher wrote, “Some complain that movies involving terrorism predominately and unfairly portray terrorists as Muslims. But I fail to see how this is an ‘unfair’ portrayal.”
Fisher also wrote, “Fortunately, we have a secular public school system in America that can deprogram the children of Muslim immigrants and help them adopt more productive values.”
After receiving an onslaught of e-mails — including some threatening ones — Fisher apologized in print two days later.
“I wrote the column as an intentional exaggeration, a twisting of information and hearsay, in order to prove a point: that people take religion too seriously,” wrote Fisher, who referred to himself as a “white boy from the suburbs who doesn’t know anything.”
The South End printed dozens of letters from irate readers cursing Fisher and the paper for publishing the piece.
Asked why it ever saw print, The South End editor-in-chief Jason Clancy said, “We never censored people in the past. We are all about getting the student’s view and that’s the main reason it got in.”
When News Hits asked Clancy if he would have published an opinion piece entitled “Blacks Suck” or “Jews Suck,” he replied: “Quite honestly, it probably wouldn’t get in.”
So how do Clancy and his staff decide what is published? On their own — without any help from experienced journalists, says Ben Burns, who heads the journalism program at Wayne State. Burns and other journalism faculty have met repeatedly with WSU administrators to offer assistance with the paper, he says, but the only response has been silence.
“It seems that the administration is doing a disservice to The South End to let them run loose without any professional counsel whatsoever,” says Burns.
David Strauss, WSU dean of students, says that he would like the journalism faculty to have some input into The South End. Charles Brown, vice president of student development and campus life, says he is looking for funds to hire a full-time director to help with the paper.
“I will do as much as I can to make sure something like this never happens again,” says Brown.
Wayne State President Irvin D. Reid sent out a campuswide e-mail this week criticizing the publication for its “cultural insensitivity.” He also shouldered responsibility for it, writing that Fisher’s statement “demonstrates a failure of our educational system to foster the kind of maturity and understanding among students that would preclude such gross insensitivity.”
So what can be done to ensure that culturally offensive and factually inaccurate statements such as Fisher’s are not published in The South End again? Here’s where News Hits’ multiple-choice test comes in for WSU administrators. You can choose from the following: A) write a heartfelt apology; B) ensure that The South End students get the help they need from experienced journalists; C) A and B. The results of this test will be revealed in the months and years to come.Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org