Mock campaign ad might have triggered newspaper theft at Missouri-Rolla

MISSOURI — About1,600 copies of the Nov. 8 edition of the University of Missouri at Rolla’s studentnewspaper were stolen, possibly in response to a mock campaign ad criticizing amember of the student government.

ChrisStryker, editor in chief of the Missouri Miner, said staffers noticed Nov. 12 thatthe distribution bins around campus were empty. Stryker said that was unusualfor the weekly paper, which prints 4,000 copies a week and distributes them onThursdays. Although staffers suspected the papers had been stolen, Stryker saidthey did not immediately rule out the possibility that the Nov. 8 issue hadsimply been unusually popular.

“Wewere very hesitant to call it theft until we actually were pretty sure itwas,” Stryker said.

Thatconfirmation came when a source — whom Stryker declined to identify — contacted Stryker, saying that the source had witnessed people removingstacks of papers from one university building. Stryker said he referred thewitness to the University Police Department.

Strykerfiled a police report Tuesday night, estimating that the theft cost the paperabout $1,000 to $1,500 based on production costs and advertising revenue.

BillBleckman, director of University Police, confirmed that police wereinvestigating the disappearance of the papers as a theft, and that the investigationwas focusing on the mock campaign ad as the likely impetus for the theft.

“It’s really the only thing wecan see in the paper that might generate any controversy,” Bleckman said.He said police did not yet have any suspects.

Thesatirical campaign ad in the Nov. 8 issue featured a large photo of AlexDempsey, the student council’s vice president of external affairs, and severaltaglines.

Onepart of the ad said: “Vote for me — and I promise to give you morelegitimacy than my son.” That line referred to a child support judgmententered against Dempsey in a Missouri state court. Stryker said the generaltheme of the ad was intended to contrast what Stryker and the ad’s designer sawas Dempsey’s “overly conservative and morally upright public image”with his private behavior.

Strykersaid that a “small pocket of people” were strongly offended by thead. But he said he did not have “any solid evidence” indicating whomight have taken the missing papers.

Dempsey,in an e-mail to the Student Press Law Center, declined to comment on the ad,saying that his attorney had advised him not to speak about the matter”pending litigation.”

TheMiner has hadstrained relations with the student government at least since last year, whenthe council significantly cut the student fees allocated to the paper, fromabout $40,000 for 2006-07 to about $27,000 for 2007-08, Stryker said. Thepaper’s total budget for this year is about $70,000, including ad revenue.During last year’s funding debate, Stryker said some members of the studentgovernment — including Dempsey — advocated cutting the paper’sfunds based on the paper’s perceived bias and low quality.

InFebruary, and again in August, the Miner sent letters to the university demanding thatadministrators rescind the funding cut. Backed by legal opinion lettersprepared by the SPLC, the Miner said cutting the paper’s university funding based on complaints about itscontent constituted censorship. The university both times declined to overrulethe student government, saying the paper had not offered enough evidence thatthe funding cuts were based on the paper’s content.

Strykerinsisted that Dempsey’s role in cutting the paper’s budget had not influencedhis decision to run the mock advertisement.

“Ifit was the motivation, we would have run the cartoon in a different form, andit would have been last year,” Stryker said.

For More Information:

  • Missouri administrators deny newspaper’s request to intervene in funding dispute News Flash, 2/21/2007
  • Missouri newspaper threatens university with lawsuit to restore funding News Flash, 2/14/2007