Obama Cartoon Flap: Local Officials Questioning Oversight Process at College Student Newspapers

The plot thickens:

Following our report on an e-mail distributed by the journalism director at Scottsdale Community College, two of the five governing board members of the Maricopa Community College District have written in comments (reprinted in this post), and we've had a chance to talk to Tom Gariepy, district spokesman.

The bottom line: Publication of an Obama cartoon (below) in the Chronicle has caused the college district's governing board to begin gathering information about who oversees the newspapers, and how that oversight process works. Whether the board plans to "take control" of student newspaper, or something more subtle like leaving control in the hands of sycophants, is still an open question.

And now there are also accusations by the district that Director Julie Knapp's e-mail was full of holes. (We admit to being absent at the governing board's last meeting -- who knew it would be so much fun?) Knapp, presumably knowing what a crapstorm her e-mail has created, doesn't want to comment further at this point.

Randolph Lumm (pictured above), a former state Department of Economic Security contract specialist and experienced substance abuse counselor (did we mention he's also a Bible study teacher?) appears to be questioning Knapp's judgment in his early-morning comment:


Randolph Lumm says:

I as a community member and a board member had concern with the SCC Chronicle portraying any black man as a monkey. Here is where I draw the line; you can criticize a person's thoughts and beliefs but when you criticize an aspect we can't change about ourselves like color, race, culture, or sex you go over the line. This has nothing to do with our first amendment rights. I am the only board member who raised this concern. I am satisfied with the action from SCC's President.

Now I pose the question; what if an issue comes up that we all find disagreeable. What oversight does staff have? The board does not want to have control or have oversight but some staff with good judgment should be watching what goes into student newspapers, paid with public dollars. We are asking college presidents, what are they doing as oversight, not control? I think this is a fair question!

Randolph Lumm
Posted On: Friday, Mar. 13 2009 @ 1:51AM

If Knapp's e-mail has accuracy problems, (we'll get to that in a sec), certainly the same could be said for Lumm's opening statement that the Chronicle portrayed a black man as a monkey. In fact, the Chronicle ran a syndicated cartoon that some people say portrays Obama as too monkey-like.

Oh, and we've heard that "we're just asking the question" line before.

But even more amusing is Debra Pearson's strident comment:

Pearson says:

The misinformation, misquotes and efforts to distort Maricopa County Community College Board members' position concerning school news papers in an effort to manipulate the passions, cause fear and to create an emotional fire storm based on tabloid type gossip,is an abuse of the public.

All papers, across this Nation, have a Board, editor, publisher. The papers also have financial concerns in regards to the positions that those running adds in their papers, express. ALL concerns are managed and considered when making decisions regarding any item that appears in any and all of the papers across this Nation. The owners of all media answer to their funding source, set policy, programs, spending, oversee and monitor conduct within the system. Never is this considered an intrusion of freedom of the press. NO reporter or writer is able to submit and then demand, based on the Constitutional right of freedom of the press or speech, to have their article or story printed as is, unedited and without fail.

The School papers are paid for by the tax payers and therefore the tax payer, the people of Maricopa are the owners of the paper. The people's college paper has an elected Board. We, the Board, answer to our funding source, set policy, programs, spending, conduct within the system, and accountability to the owners for decisions made.

As members of the Maricopa County Community College Board, we have asked the same questions any paper owners would ask. Our request was for information to be provided to us that shows what the process is, will be, and how the decision making process and management measures are implemented.

These measures being employed, or the act of asking for this information, does not prohibit anyone from starting their own paper, printing or creating what ever they wish. Freedom of the press is intact, safe and is not infringed in any way.

Emotional overload and exploitation of the publics fears and leading them to believe that their rights are being threatened is drama we do not need. None of us appreciates this type of "calling wolf."

Posted On: Friday, Mar. 13 2009 @ 1:18PM

First of all, Mrs. College Governing Board Member, it's "crying wolf," not "calling wolf."


But wow, "abuse of the public?" Really?

We were a bit confused by something in this line: "Our request was for information to be provided to us that shows what the process is, will be, and how the decision making process and management measures are implemented."

They are requesting to know what the process will be? We thought that's what the governing board wanted to decide.

Tom Gariepy, district spokesman, doesn't speak for the board, but he did speak for Pete Kushibab, the district's legal adviser.

According to Knapp's e-mail:

The worst was when they asked Pete Kushibab, district counsel, if they had a right to take control of the newspaper content and he said they did but that most colleges in the nation choose not to do so. Pete didn't explain why and the board didn't ask.

When we phoned Kushibab yesterday, we asked him why most colleges in the nation "choose not to do so." That's a great question, he said -- and referred us to Gariepy.

Gariepy -- who was at the meeting on March 10 -- tells New Times today that only two of the five board members even spoke about the issue, so he's wondering how Knapp came to the following conclusion:

... all but one of the board members (Don Campbell) decided that all student newspapers in the district needed to allow the board to control content in the future.

Gariepy confirmed that either Pearson or Lumm asked Kushibab if the board had a right to take control of newspaper content, although he doesn't have a recording of the question and can't say whether the phrase "take control" was used. But it was something like that.

As far as the district is concerned, Gariepy says, Knapp "has every right to her opinion."

No agenda has been set yet for the governing board's March 24th meeting. We'll let you know if and when this issue is scheduled to land on the board's table again.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.