It’s no longer news that The Panther was restricted from attending the George W. Bush event last week. What is news, however, is who put conditions on our attendance and coverage.
As we wrote in last week’s editorial, we decided not to attend Bush’s event because Chapman told us that we’d have to submit our piece to Bush’s office for prior approval before publishing. This is what was communicated to us.
That’s why it was quite surprising to discover this week that it was actually Chapman who wanted to review our piece before we published it, not Bush’s office. In fact, Bush’s office didn’t care if we attended at all – it was just Chapman focusing on maintaining their image.
Let’s break this down.
In June, our Editor-in-Chief found out that President Bush would be coming on campus. She knew she wanted to be there. On Sept. 10, she had a meeting with Sheryl Bourgeois, who told us if we wanted to attend, we would need to submit our piece to Bush’s office before we published it. On Oct. 4, we reached out to notify Bourgeois that we weren’t attending due to our commitment to remain journalistically ethical. On Oct. 9, Bush came to campus and we didn’t attend. On Oct. 14 we published the editorial about our decision. And on Oct. 17, we received a phone call directly from Bush’s Chief of Staff that revealed we had it wrong: Bush’s staff didn’t place prior review conditions on us, that decision was all Chapman.
That means we were led awry. We were led to believe that Chapman’s hands were tied, that they couldn’t do anything to let us into the event condition-free, that this decision was all Bush’s office. But then we found out that wasn’t the case at all.
There were multiple opportunities for Chapman to convey to us that it was them, not Bush, who requested to review our story before we published it. In our email to Bourgeois declining the invitation to the event, Bourgeois allowed us to believe that it was Bush’s office making the call, not Chapman. The fact that we had to receive a phone call from Bush’s Chief of Staff correcting the narrative is absurd. This should not have happened in the first place.
We’d like to apologize to Bush’s office. We pinned the blame on them and it was unwarranted.
Part of the reason we’re so disheartened over this situation is because of Chapman’s commitment to free speech. Throughout campus, Chapman’s dedication to free speech is visible. On the website, a long, thought out statement is alive and well, dictating the school’s valuing of free speech. And Chapman was the fifth school to ever sign on to the Chicago Statement, a strongly-worded treaty that establishes and defines the importance of freedom of expression on a college campus.
One of the most important factors of free speech is freedom of the press – an integral part of the First Amendment – and part of the reason we’re proud to write as Chapman’s paper is because of how dedicated this campus is to free expression. There’s a reason it’s in the First Amendment: it’s essential for a healthy democracy. But when it comes down to it, Chapman failed at their job, they broke their promise and they made it impossible for us to ethically express our speech.
It’ll be very easy to review this entire situation and blame it on a misunderstanding. Undoubtedly, people will claim that there was some miscommunication along the line, that words and blame got pinned on the wrong person, that Chapman meant no harm. That’s not the case. We didn’t misunderstand anything. We didn’t misinterpret anything. We were told that it was Bush’s office, not Chapman that wanted us to break our commitment to journalistic integrity. Regardless of any sort of miscommunication, that’s what happened.
We’re proud to attend Chapman. But for a school that waves a free speech flag high over campus, for a school that preaches the importance and necessity of free speech, we find it disappointing to see that it was our own school that attempted to stifle us. Chapman put their free speech flag through a shredder.
Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t Chapman’s PR. We have no obligation to paint a picture that isn’t accurate. We have no commitment to maintain a positive image of Chapman. That’s not what journalism is about; it’s not what The Panther is about and it’s not the type of reporting we do here. We weren’t hired to produce an idyllic image. We were hired to report on campus – the good and the bad. We have an obligation to report ethically and accurately. We hope that the administration takes a hard look at what they’ve done.