I was spoiled in college. TheUniversity of Florida Alligator was among the most aggressive student-run newspapers in the country. Its history demanded it. In 1971, the Alligator was booted off campus after running an ad for an abortion clinic—an intentional act of defiance. Within days of its eviction it set up shop in the back of an old restaurant. A meat locker housed the newsroom; a beer cooler served as the darkroom.
Before long, "The Agitator" dominated national journalism competitions. It was everything a college paper was supposed to be: skeptical, courageous, progressive. The same could be said about The Daily at the University of Washington—until recently, that is. Nowadays the paper's editor comes to work in a suit. Its last three opinion editors have been business majors. A staff columnist recently boasted of turning a roommate into a "sex slave/servant" and wondered why "gang-banging chicks" isn't an Olympic sport. Daily editorials have referred to environmentalists as "eco-jerks," homeless people as "good entertainment," and Freedom Socialist Party co-founder Clara Fraser, two months after her death, as "the new Fuehrer of Seattle's Socialists." The Daily's editors endorsed nearly the same slate of student-government candidates as the College Republicans. The Daily has drifted so far to the right that TheWashington Spectator—a descendant of the paper conservative guru John Carlson started in the mid-1980s—no longer felt the need to publish.
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The Daily hasn't yet called for changing Red Square's name to Reagan Plaza, but a small group of progressive students isn't waiting around for that to happen. Last November the Student Action Network began publishing Ruckus, a photocopied newsletter funded by pocket change and benefit keg parties. "We got fed up with The Daily," says Ruckus co-founder Jeremy Simer, one of several Daily refugees who now write for the eight-page, hand-folded freebie. Ruckus has carried the banner for a variety of campus issues: opposing United Parcel Service's attempt to influence back-injury research, supporting progressive student-government candidates, saluting the UW Regents' decision to offer health insurance and housing to same-sex domestic partners. Ruckus writers have also weighed in on many state, national, and international issues, including Initiative 200, migrant labor conditions, police brutality, reproductive rights, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, and efforts to increase the minimum wage.
Ruckus is doing such a good job living up to its name that a new conservative paper appeared on campus last month, hoping to even the ideological scales. Unlike their counterparts at Ruckus, however, Husky Review staffers don't have to wait tables to pay their printing bill. The Review gets money and advice from the Collegiate Network, an alliance of 65 right-wing, campus-based papers founded by neoconservative icon Irving Kristol, his Institute for Educational Affairs, and former treasury secretary William Simon in 1978. The IEA merged with William Bennett's Madison Center in 1990 to form the Madison Center for Educational Affairs. In 1996, Madison handed over the Collegiate Network to the Wilmington, Delawarebased Intercollegiate Studies Institute, founded in 1953 by William F. Buckley Jr. and bankrolled by billionaire banking heir Richard Mellon Scaife, the infamous patron of the Clinterngate witch hunts. If this month's campus elections are any indication, The Daily's rightward shift and the Review'semergence may have come a few years too late. All but one student candidate endorsed by Ruckus was elected, including presidential aspirant Franklin Donahoe, director of the Black Students Commission and a renowned campus progressive. Ruckusco-founder Cameron Chapman deadpanned, "I think there is a mistrust of The Daily."
Almost overnight, Ruckus and the Review have pumped some life into a university where only one in 10 students vote in campus elections, and where a recent poll revealed that students' highest priorities are "looking good/having good hair" (42 percent), "staying inebriated" (18 percent), and "getting laid" (17 percent). With only 6 percent of those polled saying that "learning about the world" is their top goal, a press war couldn't come at a better time—especially if ignorance, triviality, and apathy will be among the casualties.
Taking it off
Kudos to TCI Cablevision for asking a federal court to decide whether perverted programs such as Fulfilling Your Fantasies and Mike Hunt's Get Your Friends Laid Show fit the legal definition of "obscenity" and hence can be banned from public access television. Shown to a jury, such filth almost certainly would—and should—get the thumbs-down. Beyond such constitutional questions, it's high time we examine what Ronald Collins and David Skover describe in their excellent book The Death of Discourse as an emerging "pornutopia." Collins and Skover warn of "a culture in which self-gratification defines self-realization, in which the irrational decreases the rational." The "pornographic state" must be overthrown, they argue, before this country's starving democracy can be nourished back to health.
Among think tanks most frequently cited by the mainstream media last year, three of the top four—the American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, and Heritage Foundation—are politically conservative, according to a study published in the May/June issue of Extra! Overall, the corporate press mentioned right-leaning think tanks three times as often as left-leaning ones.... In a May 13 profile of city economic-development director Mary Jean Ryan, Seattle Times editorial writer Susan Nielsen made a conspicuous omission: A city panel recently found Ryan and her staff in violation of several federal, state, and local laws stemming from the NordstromPine Street scandal.... Of the seven local television news stories receiving Associated Press awards last month, five were about crime or disaster.... Fifty-four years after first sitting down to a typewriter, columnist Emmett Watson has received a Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Congrats, Emmett.
Sheri Herndon of the Seattle Independent Media Coalition contributed to this column.
The University of Florida's Alligator Online
The University of Washington's Ruckus
The Collegiate Network
The Death of Discourse summary and reviews