Cartoon causes new uproar at Conn. paper

CONNECTICUT –Students and faculty at Central Connecticut State University gathered on campus Monday to protest the Sept. 12 publication of a controversial cartoon in the student newspaper, The Recorder.

The cartoon featured two characters conversing about locking a “14-year-old Latino girl” in a closet and urinating on her. A disclaimer at the bottom of the strip read, “The Recorder does not support the kidnapping of (and subsequent urinating on) children of any age or ethnicity.”

Following the protest, Connecticut State University System Chancellor David Carter issued a statement speaking out against the cartoon but reminding the public of The Recorder‘s First Amendment rights.

“We share the understandable outrage expressed by students, faculty and staff at Central, but recognize that the First Amendment to this nation’s Constitution provides broad protections for free speech,” Carter said. “It also limits the remedies available to a university seeking to reintroduce repulsive and renegade publications to the concepts of mutual respect and good judgment.”

The controversy comes about four months after a panel of faculty, newspaper staff and other students issued recommendations in reaction to a satirical article published in February titled “Rape only hurts if you fight it.” As a result of the controversy, the writer left his position as opinion editor and issued an apology. The Recorder‘s editor in chief, Mark Rowan, kept his position.

The Task Force on Journalistic Integrity recommended hiring a full-time media adviser, creating a journalism major and encouraging more diversity on The Recorder‘s staff.

Although critics of the cartoon have called for Rowan’s ouster, the administration has so far stopped short of removing him or taking punitive measures against the newspaper, according to Mark McLaughlin, the school’s associate vice president of marketing and communications.

But university president Jack Miller ordered the school to pull its advertising from the publication.

“Their decision to publish a deeply offensive cartoon demonstrates their lack of understanding of how words can hurt and of how their editorial decision to publish offensive materials can undermine the civility that should bring us together as a campus community,” Miller said in a statement.

Advertising revenue from the university is a small portion of the newspaper’s income, only about $50 to $75 a year, Rowan told the Student Press Law Center. Many university ads run free of charge, and pulling them will not hurt The Recorder financially, Rowan said.

Rowan previously told The Herald, a local newspaper, that the editorial staff had met to discuss printing the cartoon. After the February editorial, the newspaper created a policy where all staff members had to look at every submitted article, particularly controversial ones. After reviewing the piece, the staff agreed to run the comic strip, deciding it was not more offensive than many popular television shows.

“It’s kind of weird that no one takes “South Park’ seriously,” Rowan said. “But a comic that has a similar sense of humor all of a sudden is hate speech?”

In The Recorder‘s next issue, which went to press Monday, the paper covered the protest and printed all the letters it received about the cartoon, Rowan told the SPLC. The newspaper has not changed its editorial process since the most recent incident, and controversial pieces still will be reviewed by the editorial staff prior to printing, Rowan said.

“I think the fact that we all sat down in a room and looked at and discussed it, and argued it, is a step in the right direction,” Rowan said. “Just by doing that shows that the process has improved. It’s not perfect. We’re not going to make the right choice all the time.”

Aside from a few unruly Facebook messages, Rowan said he has not received any harassment as a result of the controversy.

Rowan said it is difficult to decide whether he regrets publishing the cartoon but says their critics’ outrage is misplaced.

“I regret that so much effort and time was wasted regarding this issue,” Rowan said. “We all could have put our time and energy into something much more substantial. I just feel like there are bigger issues out there that we as students and the university can be tackling.”

For More Information:

  • Connecticut panel completes newspaper review Fall 2007 Report
  • Central Connecticut State U. task force releases report on student newspaper News Flash, 6/20/2007
  • Central Connecticut president announces details of committee reviewing student editorial process News Flash, 2/27/2007
  • Central Connecticut State president will investigate editorial process after controversial rape article News Flash, 2/15/2007