The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, April 05, 2004

April Fools at Carnegie-Mellon roll over on student cartoon

I think you've an inkling of what's coming...
...cartoonist Bob Rost...drew the strip in which a goat uses a racial slur to brag to a mouse that he had hit a black person on a bike.

Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear.

Apparently, the cartoon was included in
The April Fool's Day edition of The Tartan [which] also includes graphic depictions of female genitalia, as well as poems about raping a teacher and mutilating a woman with an ice skate.

Rape and mutilation simply - well, don't cut it. For real grievance-juice you need a racial slur.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (April 4) gives us a flavour of the Stalin show-trial (or is that, kangaroo court?) at which Editor-in-Chief Alex Meseguer appeared:
...Meseguer couldn't apologize enough yesterday to an angry crowd of CMU students who had gathered to demonstrate against him and his newspaper.

"I don't blame you for feeling this way," he told the crowd of about 75 students, most of whom were black, as they formed a semi-circle around him and CMU's landmark painted fence outside the University Center.

The guy has clearly entered his private Pol Pot-style re-education camp, and is intent on the rest of those responsible for the rag doing the same: he told the mob
he was taking measures to prevent anything similar from happening again.

But, as so often, cringing concessions only make the mob greedier. The Post-Gazette journo, Amy McConnell, seems almost to be antiphonising with the grievance boys:
the demands of the campus community, black students said, go beyond an apology or even Meseguer's resignation. They want to reform the stigma and ignorance on campus that once prompted a student to ask Tommy Taylor, an African-American senior majoring in electrical and computer engineering and public policy, whether he could properly pronounce the word "ask".

I'm supposing that any campus community of which Mr Meseguer was the journalistic representative would prefer to let black students to speak for it on such an issue!

(And that question: a little insensitive, perhaps - and we have no context to judge. But surely ebonics is a legitimate subject for discussion at a university? I really think we'd have to ax those black students...)

And the administration in all of this? Dean of Student Affairs Michael Murphy
said he and the university's president, Jared Cohon, condemn The Tartan's use of the slur.

Administrations want to make the trains run on time. And if that takes castor-oil, so be it.

In the judging the content of Mr Meseguer's character, we have this telling vignette - if it's true, of course:
The demonstrators also demanded to know the real name of the cartoonist, who signed the offending comic strip under the pseudonym Edwin Hazelton.

"We want to know. We want to know. We want accountability," sophomore engineering student Kirstin Oswald told Meseguer. "Give us a name."

Meseguer looked over to a pale, slim student, who stepped forward. The crowd, already tightened in a knot around them, leaned closer.

Oswald - that quote [1] looks phonier every time I look at it - says
I'm disappointed in America's future. I'm disappointed these are the people who are going to be leading us.

Ain't that the truth!

  1. Did the journo get corroboration for those exact words? Was there a tape running? How else to be sure? The paper wouldn't use a paraphrase and put it in quotes, would it?


On the question of accuracy of quotations: it's possible that McConnell was herself a witness to Meseguer's humilation, and was taking down what she heard in shorthand. (She must have made contact in some way with students to get the comments she quotes. Why not in person? And a staff photographer is credited with the snap accompanying the piece.)

In which case, who tipped her off?

I'm curious about the extent to which press involvement exacerbated the indignation at CMU: was there local TV at the meeting where the editor confessed, for instance? (Other press activity seems to be limited to an AP piece carried by local news sites.)

And what agendas are in play here? Will a price be exacted from the administration beyond the neutering of the newspaper? Funding for race-specific courses, or facilities, say. Has Julian Bond been in touch?

[And this discussion on the sacredness of quotes in the light of the Jeffrey Masson case.]


There is, it seems, a rival journalistic enterprise at CMU, the exclusively online Carnegie Pulse.

From which we have a more extensive report of the indignation meeting, which, it says, was
organized by the brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc
in particular, by the Tommy Taylor referred to above.

Which make the circumstances in which the ebonics discussion took place all the more interesting. (This is all far too much like breaking news...)

The racial character of the action emerges from the fact that, following a prayer from Brother Taylor,
Brian Orr, a sophomore history major, gave a brief history of the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Black national anthem? I've decided not to go there...

The assembly of students, faculty, staff, administrators, community members, and local media joined together to sing the anthem.

Local media! Does that mean that Ms McConnell [1] was joining in? Geez, when I said antiphonising earlier, I wasn't thinking literally!

After further brothers of the fraternity [2] spoke, they were followed by
Several members of Spirit, a student organization dedicated to promoting African-American awareness on campus...

Cortney Ricketts, president of Spirit, [who] claimed that the comic was only one of several racially offensive pieces that The Tartan has printed in the last five weeks, but that when Spirit had previously spoken to its editors and University administrators, “We were told we need to respect freedom of speech.”

Subsequent events make that a little hard to believe: but clearly such a white concept had no savour for Mr Ricketts.

A colleague of his modestly suggested that
We’ve reached into the Dark Ages.

After Meseguer's nimble jumping of Jim Crow, it seems that Dean Murphy addressed the mob: after condemning the Tartan, he
went on to emphasize his belief in the importance of the newspaper as a voice for the students.

No ringing endorsement of free speech there, then. None reported, at least.

There are further details of Rost's outing by Meseguer that fail to place the latter in any better light. And, Meseguer is quoted as saying that the rag is, or was, in debt to the tune of nearly $90,000. [The quote is unclear.]

Apparently one Celeste Taylor was there as
a representative from the NAACP

No doubt, Julian Bond will get a memo in due course.

  1. I hadn't thought to ask before. But I think this puts the journo's credibility in question, so, what race is she? If - and we have no evidence on the point - she was both present, in her professional capacity, and joined in the singing - I think she's crossed the line. If that happened, the burden of proof of good faith has shifted to her.

  2. Which is historically black, though its rules on membership are colour blind it seems. A 2000 Ebony piece on Whites In Black Sororities And Fraternities.


A further Pulse piece gives the text of the cartoon - I'm no connoisseur, but I suspect that, as nigger-jokes go, it doesn't go far.

(Of course, the cartoon was lampooning the prejudice of the characters, as individuals finding humour in nigger-jokes. Not a subtlety widely appreciated by the Kappa Alpha Psi folks.)

And this is a Google cache of an apology from Meseguer.

[The heads-up and the Post-Gazette piece and Meseguer apology from Romenesko, acting unpaid copytaster to the Plawg this many a long month...]

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