Thousands of Papers Go Missing at Catholic University; Editors Get Little Help from Administration, Police

By on April 7, 2009

A few days after breaking news of the brazen theft of a student newspaper at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, FIRE reports another such disheartening incident, this time at the Catholic University of America (CUA), where thousands of issues of the independent student newspaper The Tower were taken from their racks and thrown into recycling bins around the campus on the evening of Friday, March 27. Though students salvaged some of the issues (which you can see in this YouTube video), thus far no disciplinary charges have been brought in the more than ten days since the theft.

Ryan J. Reilly, the Tower‘s editor in chief, writes in the Washington CityPaper that

[s]everal issues of the paper were ripped up and placed in front of the newspaper office, and a comic that ran in the paper was ripped out and taped next to the door.

The comic was commenting on several forum pieces and letters to the editor that have run in the Tower over the past two months discussing gay rights and the Catholic Church. Featuring the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and symbols signifying gays and lesbians, the comic stated that the student population that identifies as gay is "no longer underground."

Discouragingly, the editors of the Tower seem to have been met thus far with indifference from the police. Reilly writes that "[s]tudent editors called the Metropolitan Police Department on Friday and again on Sunday, and were told by officers both times that because the issues were free on newsstands, they did not consider it a theft."

In a news release issued by the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), attorney Adam Goldstein shows the fallacy of the MPD’s logic:

"That the owner of property does not charge for it does not mean the property has no value," Goldstein said. "If you win a contest for a car and someone sets the car on fire, they owe you a car even though you didn’t pay for it."

The SPLC points out as well that, while only California, Colorado, and Maryland have laws explicitly criminalizing the theft of free newspapers, "other states have prosecuted newspaper thieves under destruction of property or general theft statutes."

It’s bad enough that the MPD can’t seem to grasp the fact that free papers are not free to print, and that advertisers often seek reimbursement when ads they pay to run go unseen. But to add insult to injury, news editor Justine Garbarino mentions that they are further burdened by an inattentive CUA administration:

University administrations, have only offered consolation, saying there is not much they can do, other than it might be a violation in the student code of the University. Our Department of Public Safety has been of little help. They have disregarded our requests to see the video tapes and have said that the investigation will take a long time and not to expect any answers. Our staff has conducted our own investigation and has been able to determine who the culprit(s) may have been, but without seeing the tapes, we can not pursue anything.

FIRE will continue to follow this story and hopes that this acttruly among the most pernicious forms of censorship there isdoes not go unpunished.

Schools: The Catholic University of America University of Massachusetts – Amherst