On Sept. 17, stacks of the University of Oklahoma’s student newspaper OU Daily went missing across nine different locations on the school’s Norman campus. The 450 missing newspapers are valued at about $113.
The stolen issues featured a front page article detailing multiple sexual harassment allegations against tenured drama professor Tom Orr. In comments to the Student Press Law Center, the article’s author, sophomore Jana Allen, said she considers the theft censorship.
OU Daily did the right thing and filed a police report the same day as the theft. The investigation has since closed with the police identifying the thief. Police provided the director of student media with a reimbursement for the approximate cost of the stolen newspapers, but did not identify the source of the reimbursement.
At FIRE, we’ve reported on newspaper thefts and attempts to stifle distribution countless times — and this is not even the first theft that may be motivated by suppressing sexual harassment allegations.
In many places, newspaper theft amounts to a criminal act — and a frankly foolish one in an era where articles are simultaneously published online. Newspaper thefts essentially accomplish the opposite goal of censorship, giving the controversial stories more attention when the theft is publicized. For example, groups concerned with student press censorship, like FIRE and the Student Press Law Center, may not have written about many of these stories had no one attempted to censor them. This phenomenon of giving a story more press by attempting to censor it is known as the “Streisand effect” and is an important concept all potential censors should think about before attempting to shut down speech they dislike.