A new player
UNR’s new newspaper is upsetting some people with its self- described one-sided reporting
There’s an outspoken new voice at the University of Nevada, Reno.
The Pack Patriot began publishing with an eight-page edition in February. The newspaper was launched as a conservative alternative to what its editor calls “left-leaning” journalism. It makes no pretense at being impartial or fair.
“We don’t have a problem being one-sided,” says Managing Editor George Higgins.
The first edition of the newspaper featured three bylined articles (the bylines were pseudonyms), an unsigned column, two signed pieces promoting fraternities, an events calendar, a sports schedule, a mission statement and a few other items.
Higgins says the publication has four editors and four or five contributors. They all are donating their time and effort, so printing costs are the newspaper’s sole expense at the moment. It is printed by the Sparks Tribune, and the issues thus far have had eight pages, though Higgins wants to increase the page count.
The appearance of filmmaker Michael Moore at UNR last fall, which produced a vigorous campus and community debate, may have been a motivating factor in the creation of the newspaper. Every bylined article in the Patriot except the frat recruitment pieces mentions Moore.
The long-time campus newspaper Sagebrush published an editorial welcoming the Patriot: “To see that a group of students on campus is passionate enough … to take on such a daunting task is encouraging—regardless of one’s political perspective.”
But others have been less enamored of the publication, including targets of its articles.
The lead story and an illustration in the first issue have attracted most of the comment. The illustration is a bar graph that runs from white on the left to black on the right, with scholarships supposedly available to those on the right side of the “skin pigmentation test” and denied those on the left. The item was headlined “Race-based scholarships now available!”
The lead story was headlined “Take A Stand at UNR.” It harshly criticized university instructors for comments allegedly made in class that were liberal or critical of George Bush.
No one making the charges against the instructors was named. None of the instructors were given an opportunity to comment before they were accused in print. No context for the statements, which turned out to be central to the meaning of the alleged quotes, was provided. If the newspaper had subjected the students’ claims to normal journalistic scrutiny instead of taking them at face value, the quotes might have appeared very different from the way they were reported by the newspaper.
For instance, English lecturer David Fenimore was quoted saying, “Blue states have more teeth than red states.” (The newspaper added, “He was referring to the word ‘teeth’ in the literal sense,” perhaps a reference to the ages of the different populations.)
When we asked Fenimore for his account, he replied, “[O]ne moment in my lecture was brutally ripped out of context. I was giving a survey of 2004-05 political jokes from both sides, Ann Coulter’s as well as Al Franken’s, to set up the point that politics were just as polarized in the late-18th century—e.g., Jefferson said of Hamilton that ‘there are not enough women on the planet to absorb the secretions of that man Hamilton’ and Hamilton called Jefferson a philosopher in statesman’s clothing, and so forth. The anonymous informant of the Pack Patriot’s anonymous writer took one joke from the list and made it sound as if I had delivered it as a main point. I was not contacted by the Pack writer/reporter before the story ran.”
Psychology assistant professor Michele Wallace was quoted by an unknown person as saying in class, “Our country is on its way into the trash, and I just can’t understand what every stupid person that voted for that asshole sees in him. He is leading the way.”
Wallace: “I never said what was reported in the Patriot. In fact, I was really careful not to get into political conversations in class during the elections because I didn’t want to offend anyone nor have students offending each other. … No one contacted me from the Patriot to get a comment or response before the story was published.”
Political science professor Jennifer Ring was quoted this way in the Patriot: “Bush is a fuck up.”
Ring: “Of course I was misquoted in the article, but truth is obviously not one of the moral values that these phony patriots covet … I was not asked for a comment or response before the Patriot was printed.”
Philosophy professor Kenneth Lucey’s supposed statement to his class was, “There are people who believe all kinds of crazy things. … I mean, there are even people who believe that George W. Bush is a good president.”
Lucey: “I don’t remember the incident from which the quote was taken. But since the quote did seem to represent an opinion of mine, I have no reason to believe that the quote was not accurate.” He says he was never contacted by the newspaper for a comment or reaction.
Journalism instructor Diedre Pike, an RN&R columnist, was accused of asking her students to identify their political party affiliations and making her students watch Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine.
“I don’t specifically recall having students raise their hands to indicate political preference, but it’s entirely possible,” Pike said. “Just two days ago, I asked them to raise their hands if they enjoyed shopping on eBay. Today, I asked if they play video games. I’ve even occasionally asked them to confess to illegal music or film downloading.” (Note to RIAA: Pike can’t remember a darn thing about the results.) She said Bowling for Columbine is just one of many productions the students viewed and studied in her class. Others were The Passion of the Christ, PBS documentaries and Super Bowl commercials.
In another case, a statement made in front of the campus library was attributed to an “unknown professor,” but since the speaker was unknown to the newspaper, it is not clear how the writer knew it was a professor.
When asked if the instructors were entitled to comment on the accusations against them, Higgins said flatly, “No.” He added, “They commented in class. …We had a direct quote in the classroom, and that’s what we used.” The alleged comments in the classroom, however, were not in response to the accusations.
“All those quotes that were said, were said in class,” Higgins says. “It happens all the time, and that’s what we wanted to say. We wanted to let the students at the University of Nevada know there is a liberal bias, and that’s what we’re going to say. And we can. “
Of course, in some of the cases, there is substantial doubt that those things were said, since the instructors flatly deny the quotations anonymously attributed to them, but because the newspaper didn’t offer the accused instructors an opportunity to comment, the editors never knew that. Nor did they know the context.
Higgins says that because the Patriot is an opinion journal, writers have no responsibility to get comments from those attacked or to provide both sides of a dispute.
“We are publishing something that allows students to read another point of view. And that’s what it is. We never said we were an unbiased news organization.”
He said the newspaper still stands behind the story.
“We’re accusing the people inside of the university … for not being professional, and for being extremely one-sided.”
The instructors consider that an exact description of the Patriot.
“In fact, I contacted the Patriot to inform them that I never said what they reported that I said and that I thought it was very unprofessional to print that I said something without ever checking with me,” Wallace says. That gave the Patriot another opportunity to cover the story, but no account of Wallace’s statement appeared in the second issue.
Ring says the student who reported her, if there was one, apparently takes her “History of Political Thought” class. She says one of the things studied in the class is Plato’s Apology, “in which Socrates was put to death by the Athenian democracy for ‘corrupting youth. …’ “ She also says, “Some of the best and most thoughtful students … were outspoken conservatives who felt safe enough no only to speak up in class, but to sign up for a second and third class with me. I am certain that they would deny that I [harrassed] conservative students.” She called the editors’ stance “undemocratic, unpatriotic nonsense.”
Higgins said he had good reason for allowing writers to use pen names.
“If a person’s out to get us, we’re not going to—there were some people on the staff that didn’t feel they would get fair treatment, but they still wanted to write for us,” Higgins says. “So we said, ‘OK, yes, you can write for us, and we’ll allow you to use a pen name.’ “
He adds, “In the future, we’ve said, we won’t do that anymore.”
The second front-page article in the first issue claimed that Democracy for Nevada (DFN), which cosponsored Michael Moore’s UNR appearance, had failed to make good on its full $10,000 pledge to the student government, basing the accusation on state campaign disclosures. However, student officials say that the paper again failed to call people for comment and so did not learn that some of the pledge was paid not directly by the group but through contributions made by others in DFN’s name.
The second issue carried a lead story that was critical of what it called “global warning misinformation” and claimed that during a recent seminar on the environment in Reno, “not one reference” or citation was offered to support claims made. But resource sciences professor Glenn Miller says the event was not a scholarly occasion at which papers were presented or debates conducted—"It was actually an event that was supposed to train environmental activists.” Again, the story had no comments from seminar organizers.
Higgins says the Patriot is trying to attract advertising. “We’re working on it. We have some other people giving us some sort of donation … as a student organization.” He said the initial capital came from “an anonymous donor.” The second issue carried an ad for the Brew House Pub and Grill.
The first issue may not have reached its full potential audience. The campus drop points quickly emptied, and there were suspicions, expressed on the Sagebrush letters to the editor page, that some people who disagreed with the content of the newspaper grabbed up handfuls of copies and carried them off.
Such theft of newspapers is a common press problem, particularly on campuses where an entire press run can be suppressed by theft because of the small number of drop points. In 1978, a run of the Sagebrush containing its student election endorsements was stolen in the early morning hours just after delivery. The newspaper then arranged with its printer, the Sparks Tribune, for another printing that was redistributed by mid-morning.
Gregg Leslie of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Virginia says, "It is much more of a problem for student journalists, although it certainly does happen to other newspapers, too. Obviously, we’re against the practice, and we feel it constitutes an inappropriate and illegal attempt to silence the press."