Investigating rumors of Bush visit provokes threat of censorship, editor says

OKLAHOMA –Student journalists at Oklahoma State University were eager to write a storyabout rumors that President Bush would speak at their university’s springcommencement ceremonies.

But when they contacted theuniversity’s public relations chief last week for confirmation, hethreatened to call the director of the journalism program if the paper publishedanything about Bush’s visit.

An editor at The Daily O’Collegian, thestudent newspaper at Oklahoma State, said she took his remarks ascensorship.

”We were told Monday, ‘If you’re running this story, I will call the head of your school,”’ said Lenzy Krehbiel, co-editor of The Daily O’Collegian.

Krehbielsaid the journalism school’s director, Tom Weir, has no editorial controlof the paper, and that student editors make all content decisions.

Public relations chief Gary Shutt said he did not threatencensorship but instead urged the paper to wait for an official announcementbecause White House staff had indicated that any premature announcement ofBush’s appearance would jeopardize the visit.

”I nevertold them I was censoring them, I never told them I was going to stopthem,” Shutt said. ”In my mind, because of the circumstance … thething to do is call the head of the school over the newspaper.”

In The DailyO’Collegian’s article on the incident, universitypresident David Schmidly said he did not authorize Shutt to make such remarks tostudent journalists.

”That’s not good,” Schmidly said in the article. ”I’ll tell him we don’t need to be doing that in the future.”

Krehbiel, the student editor, said the incident with Shutt is related to the president’s refusal to sign a statement asserting the complete independence of the student newspaper. Newspaper staff approached Schmidly with the document in November, she said.

”It seems like further validation that the university doesn’t seem to get it when it comes to freedom of press,” Krehbiel said. ”They talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.”

Shutt said the president recognizes the independence ofthe student newspaper, but that White House officials might have viewed thestudent newspaper as part of the university.

The White House announced Bush’s plans to speak at the May 6 graduation ceremony Thursday morning in a general press release, Shutt said.

Shutt and Krehbiel confirmed that neither school officials at Oklahoma State nor The Daily O’Collegian received prior notice of the announcement.