Wisconsin Student Newspaper Fires Columnist After Writing Column Opposing The Defunding Of Police

We have been discussing a crackdown on some campuses against conservative columnists and newspapers, including the firing of a conservative student columnist at Syracuse, the public condemnation of a student columnist at Georgetown, and a campaign against one of the oldest conservative student newspapers in the country at Dartmouth. Now, The Badger Herald, a student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin Madison, has dismissed columnist Tripp Grebe after he wrote a column opposing the defunding of police departments. What was equally disturbing was how the rationale for this raw act of viewpoint intolerance tracked the rationale used by the New York Times in a controversy over the column by Sen. Tom Cotton on the George Floyd protests.

The College Fix republished the column by Grebe, which is a well-written article that begins with a strong statement against police brutality and the need for society to address the underlying issues:

The recent murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police, and the riots and protests that have followed, have forged an essential discussion on police brutality that has been long in the making. In the past, many of us have responded to publicized incidents of police brutality by giving officers the benefit of the doubt because we believe that the other side of the story will justify their actions. We must now reckon that the “other side of the story” does not always absolve police officers’ of wrongdoing. For the first time, many of us now stare directly into the eyes of police brutality’s harsh existence, the same existence that Black people have known to be true their entire lives.

The reignition of the Black Lives Matter movement was undoubtedly justifiable, expected, and necessary in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. As the movement gains steam, it forces us to have difficult conversations and continue to stare into the eyes of police brutality’s existence.

However, Grebe disagrees (as do most Americans) with the “defund the police” movement. Indeed, recently Minneapolis City Council members have started to qualify their controversial pledge to defund the police due to a rise in crime and citizen unease.The column suggests other ways to reform the police while supporting officers. He views the move to defund as illogical:  “If we’re expecting police officers to be better, why would we be taking money away from them? When schools are failing, we don’t ‘Defund Schools,’ we give them more money and implement new plans to ensure their success.”

Clearly people of good faith can disagree on these points. However, this is precisely the type of dialogue that is missing in today’s environment, including in our discussion of racism.

After he filed his column, Herald’s opinion editor Samiha Bhushan contacted Grebe via email in late August and said that, while the piece was “well written,” it was “too much of a hot take.”  The email, posted on the conservative site YAF, said that the editors were worried it could “alienate” incoming freshmen and, “[a]dditionally, we just posted an editorial board supporting BLM and another article publicly endorsing two candidates who want to defund the police. As a result, your article would cause a lot of backlash that we cannot afford right now.”

There was a time when editors would be ashamed to even suggest pulling a piece in fear of the “backlash” or response of critics.  Student newspapers have long been bastions of free speech. In the 1960s, they challenged conservative views on faculties and in society. Now however they openly acknowledge the need to adhere to a more liberal viewpoint.

The Badger Herald was actually created to offer an alternative conservative perspective on the campus with financial support from William F. Buckley

Later the editors changed their rationale to refusing to publish and said that the column was not “accurately and relevantly sourced.”Grebe’s article contained roughly 20 different sources from news outlets such as CBS News, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the National Economic Bureau. I cannot see the basis for such an objection to this opinion piece, particularly given other pieces previously published by the newspaper. For example, columnist Samiha Bhushan wrote an article from the opposing viewpoint which was published and rightly so. There did not appear to be a problem with sourcing her conclusions about the total lack of accountability by police. Both pieces are valuable viewpoints.

Badger Herald Editor in Chief Harrison Freuk insisted that the real reason is “inaccurate/irrelevant information” without explaining what was inaccurate or irrelevant.  The newspaper also fired Grebe as a columnist. He cited Grebe’s conduct after his column was pulled and made direct reference to the fact that the newspaper had been contacted by the university after a complaint to a conservative student group.

Notably, the newspaper recently published a piece by student Ken Wang entitled “How Wisconsin can begin to reform its law enforcement.” It is also well-written and insightful. It argues that it may be time to defund police:

Another important option to explore is defunding the police. Defunding the police would not mean we wouldn’t have police at all. It means reallocating funds from the police department to healthcare, education, social welfare and other community resources.

When asked what defunding the police would look like, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, said “it looks like a suburb … affluent white communities already live in a world where they choose to fund youth, health, housing … more than they fund the police.”

That is a valid assertion. It is no more “sourced” than Grebe’s column. It also explores other means of changing police practices and conduct. Again, it offers an interesting perspective like Grebe’s column . . . but Grebe’s perspective was never published.

The belated sourcing rationale appears ripped from the pages of the New York Times. When Sen. Tom Cotton published an opinion column calling for the use of national guard troops to quell rioting in Washington, he cited a long history in the deployment of such troops by Democratic and Republican presidents. The column was factually correct.  However, journalists denounced the column and the protest ultimately led to the removal of the editor as well as a cringing apology of the Times. Notably, the newspaper claimed the same unexplained inaccuracies or errors in the column. It never bothered to respond to some of us who noted that, while we disagreed with Cotton on the policy, the column contained a fair accounting of the history of the use of the underlying law.

New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones was one of the journalists who pushed the New York Times to denounce its own publication and promise to curtail columns in the future. In so doing, she railed against those who engage in what she called “even-handedness, both sideism” journalism.  Hannah-Jones however later tweeted out an utterly absurd anti-police conspiracy that lacked any factual support.  She suggested that the destruction by protesters was actually the work of the police. That type of ridiculous claim (later deleted) by Hannah-Jones did not lead to a call for her resignation or any statement of condemnation from the newspaper or her colleagues.

The student editors of the Badger Herald appear to have learned well from the New York Times. They censored a conservative columnist by claiming undefined inaccuracies and sourcing issues. They are well suited for the new media as professors denounce the very concept of objectivity and call for reporters to pursue open advocacy in their coverage.

The Grebe and Bhushan columns offered precisely the type of opposing views that schools should welcome on a campus. They represent the diversity of thought that is essential to the intellectual mission of higher education.  Yet, only one of those columns was published and the other columnist was fired.  This does not bode well for the profession. I have been a columnist and an academic for decades and I have never seen the level of raw bias and intolerance on our campuses and in our newsrooms. We are living in the age of orthodoxy and the threat to free speech and the free press seems to grow exponentially by the day.

 

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