Student paper denied chance to cover President Bush event

Former President George W. Bush was an honorary guest at an event for the 20th anniversary of the naming of the Argyros School of Business and Economics Oct. 9. The event raised over $15 million for the business school. Photo courtesy of Chapman Strategic Marketing and Communications

After saying President Bush’s office requested to see article before publication, university admits otherwise

On Oct. 9, President George W. Bush came to campus. Prior to the event where Bush was an honored guest, Chapman told The Panther it could be in the room if it adhered to a set of conditions, including prior review of any Panther article by Bush’s office before publication. That, it turns out, was not true.

On Oct. 17, The Panther was hit with news: Bush’s office did not request to review any article written about the Oct. 9 event before publication. In a phone call with Freddy Ford, Bush’s Chief of Staff, Ford expressed his regret that the message of prior review was communicated to The Panther by Chapman’s administration.

“It was an off the record event, but we did not request to see any article before publication,” Ford said. “That is not something we’ve done or would ever do. We don’t play games.”

In a Sept. 10 meeting with Sheryl Bourgeois, Vice President of University Advancement, The Panther was informed of three conditions it would have to adhere to in order to attend the event that honored Bush as well as George Argyros, a distinguished Chapman alumni.

The conditions were: no audio recording, no photography and any article must be submitted to George Bush’s office before publication. Jamie Ceman, vice president of Strategic Marketing and Communications, told The Panther Oct. 18 that the prior review was not directed from the Bush office as originally communicated by Bourgeois, but rather from the university.

“The way I understood the conversation and how the request was made is that we, the university, was asking you to share (the article) prior to publication. That did not come from the Bush office,” Ceman said.

Chapman administration has since apologized to The Panther, with President Daniele Struppa issuing an opinion column to the publication.

“As the readers of The Panther have seen, the university has not upheld its free speech values in the recent interaction with The Panther,” wrote Struppa. “I am now convinced that the university did indeed request The Panther for prior review of an article, in obvious conflict with the values we espouse.”

Ceman, who talked to The Panther on behalf of Bourgeois, said she could not speak to the lack of communication on Chapman’s part, but maintained the position that the school did not have the intent of stifling the press.

Ford expressed his disdain for the sentiment of prior review, telling The Panther that “any reporters who were in the press corps during (Bush’s) time in the White House would scoff at that suggestion.”

Chapman is publicly committed to upholding freedom of expression on campus in multiple ways, including its own message on free speech and its adoption of the Chicago statement, a 2015 document that solidifies a university’s support of expression of all ideas. It was the fifth school in the country to do so.

“The school can’t say ‘the press can come, but we want to censor what the press says,”

Lindsie Rank, program officer at FIRE

“Chapman adopted the Chicago statement in 2015. It’s a really strong commitment to ensuring that First Amendment type freedoms apply to students at Chapman,” said Lindsie Rank, a program officer at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “Even though Chapman is private, students should be able to express themselves freely. This includes freedom of the press.”

The false conditions set forth by Bourgeois have gone on to be reported by multiple publications, including the Orange County Register. In a statement to the Register, Ceman explained that prior review of any article in The Panther was an “agreement.”

“The Bush organization agreed to let The Panther students attend the event as guests, not as press, so they could experience the evening,” the statement in the Register read. “Being that they would not have been there as members of the press, it was a Chapman University decision to hold them to the same standard we held ourselves.”

The conditions laid out in the Sept. 10 meeting between Bourgeois and The Panther did not include this sentiment, and it was not supported by Ford. When asked about the meeting, Ceman said that she could not comment on the nature of it but reiterated that the school supports freedom of the press.

“The school can’t say ‘the press can come, but we want to censor what the press says,’” Rank said. “That’s prior review, which is the first step to prior restraint.”

Jessica Huseman, a journalist with ProPublica, covered Bush on multiple occasions while a student reporter at Southern Methodist University (SMU). Unlike the caveats that The Panther was presented with, Huseman reported on the events with support from Bush’s office for SMU’s newspaper, The Daily Campus. Huseman, a 2011 SMU graduate, interviewed Bush for over an hour during her time on the paper. She was able to record the interview and have a photographer present.

“If anything, the school gave me more pushback than the Bush office,” Huseman told The Panther.

Rank further explained that Chapman has committed itself to upholding a “free marketplace of ideas on campus,” resulting in the support of all speech. “The best response to speech that someone disagrees with is counter speech,” Rank said.

In a turn of events from what The Panther previously reported, the office of President Bush was supportive of the efforts made by the student newspaper and the Oct. 14 editorial that garnered national attention.

“I applaud you for what you’re doing,” Ford said. “I’m sorry that message was conveyed to The Panther.”