Coulter Wannabe Pushes Limits of Free Speech
Ms. Jillian Bandes, the UNC-Chapel Hill junior recently fired from her post as opinion columnist for that school’s newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, wrote in her Sept. 13 column that, ‘“I want all Arabs to be stripped naked and cavity-searched if they get within 100 yards of an airport.’”
It would be her last piece for the student-run daily.
In it she states: ‘“You’… can’t debate that of the 19 hijackers on those planes, all 19 were Arab. And you can’t debate that while most Arabs are not terrorists, sadly, most terrorists are indeed Arab.’”
For one so young, Ms. Bandes sure knows how to stir the pot. And if her editors are to be believed, she also knows how to cook a piece by misleading sources and manipulating quotes.
Daily Tar Heel Opinion Editor Chris Coletta claims he fired Bandes not because of public reaction to the column, which at left-leaning UNC caused a commotion that the paper’s editor in chief, Ryan C. Tuck, wrote ‘“could be quantified as the largest in our history.’”
In perhaps the most incendiary passage she references Ann Coulter’s zinger about being groped by airport security, saying, ‘“I want Arabs to get sexed up like nothing else. And Arab students at UNC don’t seem to think that’s such a bad idea.’”
The latter assertion is backed up by quotes from two UNC students and a professor, all of Arabic descent, who claim they didn’t know she was writing on racial profiling and that their quotes, though accurate, were used out of context.
Turns out they weren’t so hot to get ‘“sexed up’” at the airport after all.
The situation raises questions about the nature of journalism, freedom of speech and the degree of respect for which journalists should show their subjects
But me’… it reminds me of the past, those heady days when I was a young journalism student in the deep, deep South.
The university I attended was a Catholic institution, which combined with its proximity to the equator made it attractive to natives of Puerto Rico. The Puerto Ricans represented a sizable percentage of the overall population of the school, and it was common to hear Spanish spoken in the hallways, in the palm tree-lined quads, in the dark basement barroom on campus, on the elevators while going to class and on the front porch of the single co-ed dormitory building, which the group had adopted as a communal evening gathering place.
Every night as the sun went down and the cool, semi-tropical breezes made the palm fronds sway, the Latin kids drank, danced and chain-smoked American cigarettes until the rest of us came home bleary-eyed from the bars. Uh, I mean the library.
The editor of the school newspaper, my editor, set his sights on the situation in a column, delivering a blistering critique of the group’s isolationist nature with humor, concrete example and very little tact. I don’t remember much of the text, but I recall that at one point he labeled the concrete stoop in front of the dorm ‘“Porcho Rico.’”
The piece caused a major uproar the moment it hit the streets. We got angry phone calls. Students and faculty, in those days before e-mail, dropped off lengthy letters denouncing the paper and our editor. The San Juan Star called and asked for an interview (and also, I believe, retribution). A couple of swarthy thugs came up to the office looking for our boss.
It was crazy, man. Crazy.
There was some other fallout.
The Star ran a nasty piece. Student enrollment from that beautiful island jewel dropped off for a few years. Eventually the incident was, I believe, used as a wedge against our faculty advisor in the game of university politics. And our editor was allowed to finish out the semester at his post, somewhat (but not completely) humbled.
The two situations have their differences ‘— my guy was never accused of manipulating quotes or misleading interviewees. And to be sure, his piece was much funnier; my first editor was and is a brilliant journalist who now performs his magic for a very large newspaper, the name of which you have certainly heard.
Ms. Bandes, onetime voice of the ‘“Licensed to Jill’” column in The Daily Tar Heel, will also likely go on to a successful career. She’s already making the conservative radio talk show circuit and no doubt a book deal is in the works ‘— her idol, Coulter, recently said the girl’s well on her way to the bestseller list. In a few years she’ll likely get a well-paid gig with some conservative think-tank or as a talking-head commentator on FOX News. She might even be able to finagle a job in the White House Press Corps.
That Jillian Bandes will do just fine in this business, I have little doubt.
But there is another nagging difference in these two stories, one that makes me wonder about the future of my profession.
My college editor learned something about the power of the written word and the laws of unintended consequences. He went on to practice journalism at a very high level, and I imagine that to this day he remembers the ‘“Porcho Rico’” piece with a wince every time he sits down to write.
On the other hand, going by her very public reaction, Ms. Bandes seems unrepentant towards her offenses, the most grievous of which I consider to be the misappropriation and misapplication of quoted material, sins against the truth both.
And truth is where journalism gets its power.
Time will tell if Ms. Bandes shall strike again; if she doesn’t, there will be hundreds willing to take her place. But it is unlikely that she’ll ever work alongside my former editor for one of the greatest newspapers in the land, as her transgressions have already labeled her an enemy of honesty and the antithesis of journalism’s true function.