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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    F-Bombs away!

    Take a quick look at the column in which this editorial is printed. A couple inches wide, a few column inches long – it’s a short space in which to compose a reasoned, persuasive and balanced argument. That’s why concision is a guiding principle of editorial writing.

    Of course, as with all things, that principle can be extended too far.

    Last Friday, the editorial board of The Rocky Mountain Collegian, Colorado State University’s student newspaper, composed perhaps the briefest editorial ever published. The brazen four-word column read simply: “”Taser this … FUCK BUSH.””

    Dropping a 200-point F-bomb in the middle of the opinions page ignited a firestorm of controversy at CSU, emitted a shockwave felt nationwide and did an approximate $30,000 in damage to the paper, as outraged advertisers pulled their support from the publication. The editor-in-chief was scheduled to be hauled in front of the university’s student media board to account for his paper’s actions as this paper went to print.

    We respect the First Amendment rights of individuals to voice their minds and newspapers to print their opinions at will. We believe the Collegian’s invective editorial deserves to be protected, to be read and to be discussed. But it also added little of substance to public discourse. The damage free-speech stunts like this one do by cheapening a fundamental right rarely outweigh the minor benefits of blatantly exercising it.

    Look no further than a similarly shameless free-speech stunt from last year for an example of the dangers of audacious speech for its own sake. When a high school student in Alaska unfurled a banner at a school event that boldly read “”Bong Hits 4 Jesus”” as part of a self-proclaimed “”free speech experiment,”” his weeklong suspension was appealed from the principal’s office all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But it backfired at the bench, when justices ruled in Morse v. Frederick to grant broader censorship power to school administrators and allow drug-related student speech to be easily silenced.

    True, there are significant differences between the First Amendment rights of a presumptious high schooler and those of a college newspaper. And we hope that nobody chooses to remain silent in fear of the consequences of speech. But it should be recognized that some free-speech stunts can be just as dangerous as jumping motorcycles through flaming hoops or bungee-jumping off the Eiffel Tower.

    “”Dropping the F-bomb”” is an amusing euphemism, but it’s also an apt metaphor for the decision made to publish the vituperative opinion. The power to provoke should be wielded as precisely and carefully as a real bomb, and only when the virtue of the controversy it inspires will outbalance the collateral damage of its negative effects.

    What of the debate and discussion that surrounded the editorial and spread nationwide (including, now, to the pages of our own newspaper)? The editorial and subsequent dialogue did no harm – except to Collegian’s student journalists, who took a 10 percent pay cut – but it also did little public good. Sure, it got students talking about Tasers, the Bush administration and the First Amendment, but the blunt and weary statement produced a predictably hollow conversation.

    We don’t believe freedom of expression is trivial. It is an indispensable and momentous right, to be exercised responsibly. Cheapening it with silly stunts is a perilous game.

    Opinions Board

    Editorials are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Justyn Dillingham, Allison Hornick, Sarah Keeler, Connor Mendenhall, Jeremiah Simmons and Allison Dumka.

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