Band members steal newspaper reporting alleged sexual assault

ILLINOIS – A group of students at Eastern Illinois University are learning you cannot change the news by killing the messenger.

After the student newspaper, the Daily Eastern News, printed an account on Friday, Dec. 3 of a member of the school band who says she was sexually assaulted on a trip to a football game in Tennessee, members of the band confiscated the newspaper, said John Ryan, director of student publications at Eastern Illinois. Ryan said about 4,000 copies of the paper’s press run of 8,500 were taken throughout the day.

“Every time they would disappear … we would go and pull them out of the recycling bins, and then they’d be gone again,” Ryan said.

According to the Daily Eastern News, on Oct. 23 a woman in the Eastern Illinois band accompanied several other students to a house party in Martin, Tenn., and became intoxicated. A University of Tennessee at Martin student and band member gave her a ride to her hotel, where she says he assaulted her in the parking lot. The newspaper interviewed the woman and included her statements about the alleged sexual assault in the Dec. 3 story, but did not print her name.

Daily Eastern Editor in Chief Matt Williams said the staff reported the story because the alleged sexual assault occurred during a school-sponsored event off campus.

“We thought an alleged crime was a big deal,” Williams said. “Those types of things don’t get reported often and we wanted to make it known that it can happen and things like that can also occur at other colleges.”

The paper also reported that the man accused of the attack had not been charged with a crime. An investigator for the Martin Police department told the paper that he did not believe a rape had occurred. Four students who attended the house party, including the woman who says she was assaulted, have been kicked off or quit the band for violating the school’s anti-alcohol policy, according to the Daily Eastern. Faculty band directors did not return calls for comment.

After members of the newspaper staff saw one student take a stack of newspapers from a distribution point on Dec. 3, they gave his name to a campus police officer, who apprehended him, Ryan said. Several other students wrote letters to the editor, admitting to the theft. Four culprits have been turned over to the campus judicial board, Ryan said.

“It was obvious that the marching band people thought that this was undue publicity that this report was out and that nothing positive could happen from it being published,” Ryan said. Williams said the edition came out on the day the university was holding an open house for prospective students. He said the band members may have confiscated the paper to prevent potential future band members from seeing the story.

Ryan said the Eastern Illinois band director apologized and offered to reimburse the newspaper for any expenses incurred from the theft. The paper did not incur any extra costs or lose any advertising revenue because of the theft, Ryan said.

The paper chronicled the theft in the Monday, Dec. 6 edition, along with a reprint of the original story and an editorial denouncing the theft. In addition, Ryan said, the paper’s Web site received a higher number of hits than usual, mostly from people looking for the story that caused the theft. The extra attention is ironic, Ryan said, because many Eastern Illinois students leave campus on Fridays and don’t pick up the paper.

“If the marching band and friends would have been smart, they would have just been quiet as hell, and half the papers probably wouldn’t have been picked up on Friday,” Ryan said. “By stealing them, they brought a lot of attention on themselves.”