Former President George W. Bush was on our campus and we did not attend the event. Since the beginning of the school year, our Editor-in-Chief (EIC) has been working day and night to ensure The Panther had a spot at the end. Since August, she has been communicating with the university so that we could do our job of covering events that occur on our campus. We knew he was coming. We knew it was a big deal. We wanted to be in the room. But we couldn’t.
After weeks spent making moves and drafting emails, our EIC got a meeting with Sheryl Bourgeois, the Executive Vice President of University Advancement, who told us the hard truth: no press would be allowed into the event. The event was strictly off-limits to journalists. But, she said there could be an exception. For us.
We were ecstatic. Over the moon. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to be in the same room. It would be exclusive access, we’d be the only press there. Finally, we thought, this was the chance for us to report on the event we’d worked so hard to cover. This was going to be an insane opportunity for The Panther. Our efforts had paid off. We rode that high for a total of five seconds before Bourgeois listed the caveats.
First, we were not allowed to voice record the event. Not only would that make it difficult to precisely quote what was said, it made it impossible to ensure accuracy. Second, we were not allowed to bring a photographer. No big deal.
Initially, we were willing to comply with these requests. It wouldn’t be ideal, but it was better than nothing. The problem came after, when she told us something that made it impossible for us to cover the event.
She told us, in order to cover George Bush coming to campus, we’d have to submit the piece to Bush’s office prior to publication. Yes we’d have access to the event. But before we could publish the story, we had to send it to the Bush team for final approval.
Words cannot begin to describe how unethical this is. It goes against everything we swear to uphold. Free press means it comes directly from the hands of journalists to the eyes of the readers. It doesn’t go through a third-party PR source that modifies it to comply with their demands. It goes straight to the people. That’s what free press is all about. That’s why cases such as New York Times Co. v. United States exist. To ensure that newspapers aren’t restricted by prior restraint. Because, in a way, that’s censorship.
Yet we’d have to comply with these demands in order to attend the event. It’s one or the other, we were told, and we weren’t prepared to compromise our ethics in order to gain some coverage.
We sat in the newsroom and discussed the implications that attending the event would bring. We knew that we would be giving up on an incredible opportunity – one we had worked tirelessly to get – but we also knew that it was tarnish our reputation and go against the ethics we’ve been preaching in our editorials.
So we decided that we couldn’t and wouldn’t cooperate with these demands. No one is worth bending over backwards for, not even a former President. It pained us to give it up, but we did.
It was a big deal to have Bush on campus. It was a big deal for us to cover the event. It was a big deal for us to be there. Yet despite this, we aren’t sorry that we chose not to attend. There’s not one ounce of regret that we feel about missing this opportunity. Because at the end of the day, it just proves that we’re dedicated to ethical journalism. It proves that we hold ourselves to a high standard. It proves that, despite everything that’s happened this semester, we remain true to our mission statement:
The Panther newspaper staff is dedicated to producing a quality publication in design, article content and business practice through the highest level of journalistic integrity. It is our goal to educate the Chapman community through truthful and accurate information regardless of consequences to provide a well balanced perspective on newsworthy events. We strive to constantly improve and to never accept mediocrity as a measure of quality.