American University: Denial of Right to Videotape Public Events


American University

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Case Overview


In 2002, American University (AU) 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.