FLORIDA — In aspat of he-said, she-said between student politicians and a student newspaperat the University of Florida, one thing is certain — 268 unread copies of The Independent Florida Alligator werefound discarded in a trash bin the day before student government elections.
The Alligatorclaimed two students saw Jason Tiemeier, Student Senate president pro tempore,discarding the newspapers in a classroom building Monday morning. An anonymoussource from the campus’ Unite Party, of which Tiemeier is a member, allegedlyconfirmed the eyewitness accounts.
Tiemeier said he was sleeping when the theft occurred.
Alligator Editor-in-ChiefJoey Flechas insists the story is accurate, but Unite Party spokeswomanChristina Bonarrigo claims otherwise.
“These allegations are baseless, and they also lackjournalistic integrity,” Bonarrigo said. “There is zero substantial evidence inthis matter.”
She accused the paper of completely fabricating the story.She said the media talks to nobody but her, so an anonymous source from herparty does not add up.
Flechas said staff discovered the discarded newspapers in atrash bin in exactly the way described by two witnesses, who also said they sawTiemeier do it.
“To say that it’s completely fabricated,” Flechas said,“would indicate that newspapers did not find themselves in a trash can — whichthey did.”
The day of the alleged theft, the Alligator ran a front-page story on head coach Will Muschamp’spublic endorsement of fullback Jesse Schmidt’s candidacy for vice president of student government.Schmidt is a member of UF’s Students Party, which opposes the Unite Party.
Bonarrigo could think of no reason why the Alligator would lie about the theft.Nonetheless, she said the paper is misleading students during elections andthat the Unite Party has no involvement in the alleged theft whatsoever.
Bonarrigo claims she spoke with an eyewitness, and that thedescription of the alleged thief does not match Tiemeier’s appearance. However,Flechas claimed the eyewitnesses identified Tiemeier in a photograph. It is notclear if Bonarrigo spoke with the same witnesses mentioned in the Alligator story.
Witnesses could not be reached for comment.
Campus police Capt. Jeff Holcomb said the Alligator did not file a police reporton the incident. If one was filed and a suspect was caught, he said, universityjudicial affairs would likely handle the problem.
Flechas said the Alligatorreceived mixed messages on whether they could file a police report at all, asthe campus police have never before dealt with newspaper theft as crime. Hesaid the staff was also busy with election coverage.
Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press LawCenter, said newspaper theft is most certainly a crime.
“Whether the cops think the paper was paid for is irrelevantto whether it can be stolen. It’s whether it has value,” Goldstein said.“Clearly, a lot of money went into printing it… So to let someone walk in anddestroy it would be illegal.”
Holcomb said campus police will not get involved until areport is filed.