Student Editor Who Survived F-bomb Needs to Mature

CSU Collegian editor David McSwane blames the press for his publicity woes while conveniently forgetting that he started the media circus.Colorado State University student newspaper editor Dave McSwane canceled his press conference. He didn’t return phone calls. Neither did his lawyer, David Lane.

Better to leave well enough alone.

Given the atmosphere surrounding McSwane’s decision to publish an editorial in the Rocky Mountain Collegian with the headline “Taser This. F*** Bush,” the 20-year-old junior could not have gotten a better decision from the Board of Student Communications.

The board could have taken McSwane’s job. McSwane not only kept his job, he didn’t even get suspended from it. Instead, on Thursday night, he got a reminder to watch his step and a statement that his actions in printing an editorial with the F-bomb violated student publication policy and was “unethical and unprofessional.” After a four-hour private meeting with the BSC committee of six students and three faculty, the student editor was “admonished” and encouraged to modify his behavior.

The relative lack of sanction doubtless will qualify as an outrage to the college Republicans who wanted McSwane’s job for demeaning the Republican president. The BSC decision also should make for excellent fodder on right wing talk radio. The website of McSwane’s own publication filled with a mixture of relief and righteous indignation at the news of his slap on the wrist.

“There is no free speech issue here,” wrote a person who identified himself only as Brian. “Simply a selfish kid who wanted attention, and in an effort to get it compromised the finances of the paper and possibly the school.”

That was the yin.

Todd Klatt provided the yang on the Collegian website:

“By allowing him to keep his job the Collegian has not bowed to the pressure of a few offended people nor have they traded their free press rights for advertising dollars. A newspaper should never allow their advertisers or the public to dictate their content or their editorial policy.

“That being stated, I hope that McSwane will make wiser decisions that are worthy of a college educated journalist.”

Though he wasn’t talking Thursday night or Friday morning, I hope McSwane got the message.

We’ll know soon enough. He has 20 days to appeal the BSC decision. If he does, he deserves the contempt aimed at him.

Even if he doesn’t appeal, his reaction to the BSC decision in an interview given to his newspaper was a little troubling.

“I think that they (the BSC) made the best decision they could have in their situation,” McSwane was quoted as saying. “They know that they need to uphold the First Amendment and what it means to students. They also have to save face in this media circus.”

If McSwane has not yet figured out that he created the media circus, he has not learned from his mistake.

When I spoke to him at a public meeting last week, McSwane seemed stunned at the anger and sorry for the loss of advertising dollars and staff  pay cuts that accompanied his decision to run the editorial headline.

Even McSwane suggested that the staff, knowing what it knows now, might have done things differently.

With his fate determined, he and his staff need to adjust their thinking. That doesn’t mean censorship. But it does mean finding the free speech that makes your point.

This editorial and it’s purposely offensive headline was supposed to call attention to the tasering of a University of Florida student who wouldn’t give up the microphone during a question-and-answer session with U.S. Sen. John Kerry. It was an attempt to call attention to the need for free speech.

Instead, it became a personal inquisition against and about Dave McSwane.

He survived.

Now, it’s up to him to grow.

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Jim Spencer

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