Northerner censored Grimmer for good reason

Last week The Northerner’s editorial staff made a last -minute decision regarding the ethical and potential legal complications of printing a student’s picture in the weekly Grimmer comic strip. We came to the conclusion that while the authors of Grimmer have a right to express their opinion and exercise their freedom of speech, they did not have the right to invade an individual’s privacy for the sake of a joke.

Some concerned students wrote The Northerner about our choice to edit the comic strip, calling it censorship and a violation of freedom of speech.

First of all, the act of censorship is not always evil. Censorship should be used sparingly, and only to prevent unnecessary harm or invasion of an individual’s privacy.

Because Chris Wesellman is a private individual, not a celebrity, we censored out the picture in last week’s Grimmer.

Because Wesellman is not the focus of meaningful public discourse, debate, or controversy, we censored Grimmer.

Because Wesellman deserves a reasonable amount of privacy, free from unfair public scrutiny, we censored Grimmer.

Because Wesellman, like any student, should not be harassed by someone who holds the unfair advantage of the pen, we censored Grimmer.

Yes, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and an open public discourse are important to The Northerner. These principles are the essence of our existence. However, we are also obliged to act with restraint to protect the privacy and civil rights of individuals. If the media did not concern themselves with the well being of individuals, other civil liberties could be easily violated and cast aside in name of the freedom of the press.

On another point, one student mentioned that The Northerner ran an “alleged” rapist’s (Michael Powell’s) picture on the front page, and that this somehow relates to editing a comic strip. But there are two major differences separating these two incidents.

First, the story of a felony arrest occurring on campus was newsworthy: being local, timely, and of obvious public interest. A felony is a serious charge, and students have a right to know about it happening in their backyard.

For instance, when former Student Government Association President Chris Pace was charged with a class D felony of tampering with public records, The Northerner covered the case explicitly and thoroughly. This coverage included color mug shots on the front page of the paper. It has been The Northerner’s policy to run a mug shot associated with any felony crimes on campus.

The use of Wesellman’s picture had no newsworthy value. In fact, it didn’t have much parody value either, because only a select few knew why he was included in the comic. Wesellman is not a celebrity or a public figure, and should therefore be protected from such personal and invasive attacks in print.

Second, Powell was given numerous opportunities to present his side of the story when he was contacted for comments. Wesellman, being the subject of a joke, had no weapon for recourse and no opportunity at defense.

In the end, the pen is a powerful tool. Censorship, when it is used, must be a carefully discussed matter that can sometimes only be decided case by case. In this case, we elected to make a safe decision to protect Wesellman’s privacy and peace.