NEW JERSEY — TheApril Fools’ issue of Rutgers University’s satirical newspaper has promptedbacklash from the university’s president, all thanks to a fake editorial titled“What about the good things Hitler did?”
“Federal courts extend broad protection to student media,”Rutgers President Richard McCormick wrote in a statement. “However, a recentarticle in The Medium,purporting to be written by student Aaron Marcus and using Mr. Marcus’photograph, is extremely offensive and repugnant. No individual student shouldbe subject to such a vicious, provocative and hurtful piece, regardless ofwhether First Amendment protections apply to such expression.”
Every year, The Mediumpublishes an April Fools’ issue where it takes on the appearance of The Daily Targum, a traditionalstudent newspaper. Like every year, TheMedium impersonates a Targumcolumnist — this year, it was Aaron Marcus, an outspoken Jew with pro-Isrealiand conservative views.
The Medium’seditorial copied the style of Marcus’ regular column in The Daily Targum, titled “Marcus My Words.” The column printed in The Medium states Hitler should bethanked for his genocide because it “inspired” the survivors to “move toPalestine and establish it as the homeland of the Jewish People,” among otheroutlandish statements. Marcus did not write the column.
Marcus, a junior, filed a “bias complaint” with theuniversity Thursday, the day after TheMedium’s April Fools’ issue.
Rutgers spokesman E.J. Miranda said through email that theuniversity is investigating the event as a bias incident. The event will onlywarrant discipline if it violates laws or portions of the student conduct code.Instead, it may prompt “discussion or education” on how such events affectstudents, faculty and staff.
Miranda forwarded information found on the webpage forRutgers’ Bias Prevention & Education Committee.According to a flyer on the webpage, BPEC is designed to “stop hate,” advisingstudents and faculty, “There is no such thing as ‘free’ speech. All speech hascosts and consequences.”
The Medium wasalso targeted by McCormick in 2004 for a cartoon satirizing the Holocaust.According to a 2004 press release,McCormick met with The Medium editorsto discuss “the responsibilities of editorial judgment that must accompany thedefense of First Amendment rights.”
MediumEditor-in-Chief Amy DiMaria submitted to the Targum a letter to the editor, in which she justifies the Medium’s decision, explaining it was notmeant to be anti-Semitic. Instead, it was meant to parody Marcus, who the paperdeemed to be a public figure.
“Through research of Aaron’s work,” DiMaria wrote, “a Medium writer was able to accuratelymimic Aaron’s writing style, from his tendency to have straightforward,provoking titles in his column to the casual, approachable style of writing heprefers to use. The writer also intended the use of provoking subject matter toparody Marcus’ continued use of subjects many University students do not findpopular.”
In May 2011, Marcus appeared on Glenn Beck,where he said he has been threatened with violence and legal action for hisviews.
In another YouTube video,Marcus claims he uses the column to “monitor the anti-Israel movement oncampus.” He said he feels his right to free speech was harmed when a professorencouraged students to speak out against him.
Medium faculty adviserRon Miskoff said he’s not concerned legally for The Medium because Marcus’ high-profile activism places him in apublic light and because of the paper’s 20-year run as satire.
“It’s well-known that this is a parody satire issue, weekafter week, and it even states it in the masthead,” Miskoff said. “So it’spretty clear to everyone on campus.”
Like most college newspapers, Miskoff, as the adviser, doesnot see the paper before it is published. He has been approached by the editorsfor advice on controversial issues or potential legal problems beforepublishing, but this was not one of those times.
Miskoff also said he doesn’t see the university beinganti-Jew; in fact, he said the Jewish presence and influence has grown oncampus in recent years, including the construction of a Chabad house and thegrowth of many Jewish student organizations.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press LawCenter, said he doesn’t think The Mediumis legally in trouble. The entire paper was satirical — including an ad for“Victor’s Secret” with scantily clad, buff men and several poorly doctoredphotos.
However, LoMonte added that the paper might be pushing theboundaries too far, even if it isn’t breaking the law.
“Even though they’re probably safe,” he said, “Holocaustjokes are just never funny.”