American University: Denial of Right to Videotape Public Events

Category: Due Process, Free Speech
Schools: American University

American University (AU) has punished an undergraduate student journalist for videotaping a public speech by Tipper Gore. A kangaroo court at AU found the student guilty of “possession of stolen property.” Ben Wetmore was charged with seven violations of campus policy, including “theft” of Tipper Gore’s “intellectual property.” These charges came after a long history of the university targeting Wetmore for his protected speech. In a revealing response to a letter about the case, AU Vice President and University Counsel Mary E. Kennard criticized Wetmore for ignoring the University’s”admonitions”; not “;to post derogatory materials about staff on his website”—as if it were a crime to be publicly critical of the university. Kennard’s letter confirms what AU’s behavior already revealed: the appalling treatment of Ben Wetmore was due to his political speech and journalistic activities.






  • Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly on American University

    July 25, 2002

    July 25, 2002 HEADLINE: Back of the Book GUESTS: Ben Wetmore BYLINE: Bill O’Reilly O’REILLY: In the “Back of the Book” segment tonight, things got a little rough last April at American University in Washington, D.C. Tipper Gore was giving a speech and poli-sci major Ben Wetmore, a junior, was taping that speech. Midway through Mrs. Gore’s remarks, Wetmore was arrested by campus police officers. He joins us now from Denver, where he is spending the summer. All right, Ben. So, you’re a rabble-rouser, an Abbey Hoffman-type guy, causing trouble on the campus. And what happened to you after you […]

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  • Fox News’ Brit Hume on American University

    July 23, 2002

    July 23, 2002 Political Headlines BYLINE: Brit Hume, Catherine Herridge, Mike Emanuel HUME: And now the most interesting two minutes in television, the latest from the political “Grapevine.” *** A student at American University here in Washington is on probation and faces charges of theft of intellectual property because he tried to videotape a speech on campus by Tipper Gore. The student campus gadfly Ben Wetmore says he thought there should be some recorded record of the speech by the former vice president’s wife, especially, he says, since she was being paid. So he sat in the bleachers and quietly […]

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  • FIRE Letter to American University Board of Trustees, July 16, 2002

    July 16, 2002

    Note: This letter was sent to each member of the Board of Trustees. July 16, 2002 George J. Collins, Chair Board of Trustees American University Board of Trustees T. Rowe Price 100 East Pratt Street Baltimore, Maryland 21202 Dear Mr. Collins, I write on behalf of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) concerning an issue at American University that should be of the greatest concern to you and the entire Board of Trustees. As our June 11, 2002 letter (attached) explains in greater detail, Ben Wetmore, an undergraduate student at American University, has been targeted and severely punished […]

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  • Statement from Vice President of Campus Life Gail Short Hanson Regarding an Incident Involving AU Student Ben Wetmore

    July 12, 2002

    There has been recent news coverage of an incident on the AU campus last April involving AU student Ben Wetmore and his unauthorized videotaping of an event. The incident is being used as a “cause celebre” by some individuals and advocacy organizations that have circulated misleading and in some cases false information about what occurred. The University maintains a commitment to protect student privacy rights respecting confidential information and processes; therefore, certain details and information cannot be reported. Within that context, however, we would like to clarify what has transpired. First, and most importantly, American University has a proud tradition […]

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  • Letter from American University Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Faith C. Leonard to FIRE, June 26, 2002

    June 26, 2002

    June 26, 2002 Mr. Greg Lukianoff Foundation for Individual Rights in Education 210 West Washington Square, Suite 303 Philadelphia, PA 19106 Dear Mr. Lukianoff: Your letter of June 11, 2002 raises several issues regarding the judicial case of Benjamin Wetmore at American University. I have been asked to respond to you on behalf of the university since I oversee the operations of Judicial Affairs and Mediation Services. Mr. Wetmore has confirmed that I may communicate freely with you about his case. For ease of reference, I am including a letter dated May 8, 2002 to Mr. Wetmore which explains the […]

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  • FIRE Letter to American University President Benjamin Ladner, June 11, 2002

    June 11, 2002

    June 11, 2002 President Benjamin Ladner Office of the President American University 4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20016 Re: Disciplinary Charges against Benjamin Wetmore Dear President Ladner: As you can see from the list of our Directors and Board of Advisors, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) unites leaders in the fields of civil rights and civil liberties, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty, legal equality, freedom of religion, academic freedom, and, in this case, fundamental fairness and freedom of speech and expression on America’s college campuses. Our […]

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