Adviser suspects picture prompted newspaper theft at Framingham State U.

MASSACHUSETTS — Students accused of stealing copies of The Gatepost, Framingham State University’s student newspaper, were embarrassed by a front-page photo exposing their midriffs, the paper’s adviser says.

Staff members of the public commuter college’s weekly paper reported the theft to authorities on April 27, not long after they discovered that almost half of the paper’s 2,000 copies were missing from stands.

Gatepost adviser Desmond McCarthy said suspicion arose because the small public commuter campus of 3,000 students rarely runs out of papers so quickly on distribution day, a Friday.

On this particular Friday, distribution bins that normally would still hold more than 100 papers days after printing were completely empty by day’s end, and when several bins were refilled on Saturday, the bins again turned up empty.

McCarthy, an English professor and Gatepost adviser for 15 years, said editors have heard through campus sources that the newspapers were stolen because of a front-page photo that displayed several female fans at a lacrosse match bearing their midriffs.

In the photo, the students were “spelling out the name of one of their friends who plays lacrosse,” McCarthy said. The students had letters written on their stomachs.

Editors have learned that the students pictured may have taken the newspapers because they “thought they looked fat in the photo,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy also said that a desk attendant at a campus dorm told a student editor that someone had taken the newspapers from the building, complaining about “how she looks in the photo.”

Editors have also learned that at least one student has turned herself in after a dorm resident discovered a number of papers in her room.

Dean of Students Susanne Conley said that she was “slightly hesitant” to discuss “judicial proceedings,” but said that she and the chief of campus police had discussed the incident as recently as Monday morning and were deciding how to proceed.

Conley said her office is taking the utmost precaution in determining how to charge any students involved in “an attempt to muzzle the press.”

Conley also said the act appeared to be “done out of a sense of horrible embarrassment.”

“Am I laughing it off and putting it under the rug? Absolutely not,” Conley said. “I don’t think they understood the First Amendment implications of their offenses.”

Conley also said that any punishment handed down “will certainly involve education,” in First Amendment protections.

McCarthy said Monday he has yet to hear officially from the dean if anyone has been apprehended in the theft, but after the theft the Gatepost printed another 500 copies, distributed them to campus and sent the bill to Conley’s office.

“This really shows our body image in our society. No one looking at the photo was going to say, wow, one of those women is fat or something,” McCarthy said.

By Scott Sternberg, SPLC staff writer

  • Visit the Student Press Law Center’s Newspaper Theft Forum