Anonymous group admits to theft of 5,000 copies of alternative weekly

NEW JERSEY — A student group calling itself the Progressive Activists has admitted to stealing 5,000 copies of Rutgers University’s widely criticized alternative weekly, The Medium.

The group sent an anonymous e-mail on Nov. 15 to the university’s student newspaper, the Daily Targum, claiming responsibility for the Nov. 10 theft of the “hate-charged commentary.”

“By confiscating the issues we took a stand against the racism, bigotry, and sexism this publication conveys,” the letter reads. “Though we do respect the First Amendment which grants individuals the right to freedom of speech, we do not respect, nor condone the hate speech that The Medium disseminates. No member of the Rutgers community should be subjected to abuse by a publication funded by students.”

The Progressive Activists are not an official campus group, said Medium opinion editor Ned Berke.

The Medium has a press run of 6,000, which costs about $600 to print, Berke said. After the original issues were stolen, 4,000 additional copies were printed and distributed around campus.

The Medium gained national notoriety in April when its cover depicted a carnival game, “Knock a Jew Into the Oven,” under the headline “Holocaust Remembrance Week 2004.”

Although past issues have created controversy, Berke said this issue did not contain anything that would be offensive to any particular campus group.

Moreover, the Progressive Activists’ justification for the theft — that the Medium “serves no purpose to the Rutgers community” — is false, said Medium adviser and journalism lecturer Ron Miskoff.

“[The Medium has] some very thoughtful, intelligent articles amid some things that offend people,” Miskoff said. “There may be stories or comments in there which some people don’t like but they fail to see beyond other articles which are very valuable.”

Berke said after the issues were stolen, Medium staffers called the Rutgers University police to report the theft, but were initially told there was little the police could do. Miskoff later called the campus police and asked the department to investigate the theft.

Rutgers Police Detective Thomas Chartoff said the matter is being investigated. He declined to comment further, citing the investigation, but said the police have tracked the e-mail from the Progressive Activists to the Daily Targum and know where it originated.

Berke said Rutgers students, who are not always appreciative of The Medium‘s content, have come out strongly against the theft.

“The people who have been loudest about the theft are the Rutgers students themselves,” he said, noting that a commentary that will appear in the next issue is from a student who “doesn’t like The Medium, she thinks it’s offensive, but she criticizes these groups for what they did.”

“The students are more or less on our side,” he said.

In their e-mail the Progressive Activists asked, “How much racism, sexism, and bigotry is allowed to pollute our environment before something is done?”

But Miskoff said that should not be an issue.

“This all seems to be coalescing around the … content of the newspaper, which in my opinion really should not be part of the discussion right now,” he said. Instead, the issue should be “whether the students have the right to put out the paper the way they see fit.”

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