Student media prevail in dispute over impeachment trial coverage

MARYLAND ‘ A high school’s newspaper was asked to recall issues on Oct. 1, while its television station yielded to a request to edit some content later in the week ‘ both stemming from their coverage of the student government president’s impeachment hearings.

The Black & White at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda reported on the impeachment hearings of Austin Lavin, the student government president, in its Sept. 28 issue.

Following the reports, community Superintendent Frank Stetson said he received a letter from Carl Lavin, Austin’s father and The New York Times news editor for the Washington bureau. The letter raised concerns about the coverage from what Lavin saw as student-privacy issues, although the impeachment case was heard by 70 homeroom representatives and was known by most students at the school. Stetson passed on the concerns to school principal Jerome Marco.

The Black & White received a request on Oct. 1 from school administrators to withhold about 200 papers yet to be distributed. Editor Lance Kramer said as a result of the request, the papers were held under ‘lock and key’ for a day before they were distributed.

Black & White faculty adviser Jan Bowman told Marco she would give him two copies of the paper ‘to meet the letter, but not the spirit’ of the request.

‘Mr. [Carl] Lavin demanded that the papers be retrieved and that a letter to the editor by a teacher be blackened ‘ essentially to have the newspaper censored,’ Stetson said.

When contacted, Carl Lavin said he had no knowledge of any newspapers being recalled.

Marco did not return phone calls.

The privacy concerns extended to the school’s television newsmagazine, ‘Whitman Shorts,’ where testimony in opposition of Austin by teacher Bob Mathis was not allowed to air in its entirety as part of a segment covering the impeachment trial. The show aired a slightly edited version, without any comments from Mathis and with a disclaimer explaining why the coverage was not complete.

‘He [Carl Lavin] placed demands on us; he wanted that tape,’ said Greg Malling, adviser of ‘Whitman Shorts.’ ‘It’s coming from above the school. It’s his [Carl Lavin’s] demands. He’s demanding that the testimony not be shown.’

Lavin said he sent a letter to Stetson expressing his concern that airing the television program may violate privacy laws, but Lavin did not say whether he demanded the tape not be aired.

Stetson met with student journalists and their advisers on Oct. 5 to clarify the week’s events. Kramer said Stetson cleared the air surrounding the censorship speculation and reassured students at ‘Whitman Shorts’ that they could air the segments they had previously withheld.