Chastisements

Polemicist hereby chastises...

"If, when a man has fallen into habits of idleness, of daydreaming, and of sloth, putting off his most important duties continually til the morrow, another man were to awaken him one fine morning with the heavy blows of a whip, and were to whip him unmercifully, until he who was unable to work for pleasure now worked for fear - would not that man, the chastiser, indeed be his benefactor and truest friend?"

-Charles Baudelaire
 Intimate Journals

 

April 1990; page 2; Volume 1, No. 5
Polemicist

Tom Philpott, Scott Henson
Editors, Polemicist

The fancy themselves progressives, yet what sort of progressives display such gross insensitivity to the historic struggle of women? In Polemicist's runoff election flyer discussing candidate Tracy Silna's record on the bus issue, these two balding, overbearing "journalists" (as they sometimes deign to call themselves) printed a graphic of a witch riding a broom. The cartoon was inexcusable for two reasons.

First, it suggested that Polemicist meant to call Silna a witch. Perhaps, as they will certainly claim, they "didn't mean it that way." Yeah, but how were their readers to know? In the rush to depict Silna as the scourge of the UT transportation system, they delivered a blow too despicable for even writers of their ilk.

Worse, their characterization offends women who practice witchcraft. And it ignores the historical uses of the witch symbol to isolate and persecute women. In Germany, England, America and elsewhere, women who live independently of men have been dubbed "witches," and then tortured and sometimes murdered. Midwives, lesbians and unmarried elderly women all suffered atrocities under the guise of "witch-hunting."

Philpott and Henson perpetuate these stereotypes and misconceptions with their careless portrayal of witches and women. For this, they have earned scorn.

James Anantha
Tracy Silna's campaign manager

When supporting free speech rights make them popular, student politicians speak out with righteous zeal. But when it threatens the status quo - or their jobs - they're about as progressive as Glenn Maloney, the chief enforcer of the University's repressive speech restrictions.

As our readers know, Polemicist issued a pamphlet that attacked Silna's handling of the bus issue: she offered to trade student free-ride privileges on Capitol Metro for a nominal kickback to the UT Student Services Fee Committee. Stung by this blast of glasnost, Anantha declared in the following day's Texan that he would take steps to ensure that Polemicist and other alternative press "will never try to do this again." Anantha would limit alternative publications' right to endorse SA candidates, increasing The Texan's near monopoly as purveyor of campus opinion.

To make good on his threat, Anantha will have to get one of his SA friends to sponsor legislation to change the election codes. Such legislation would probably ban pamphlet-style endorsements from the alternative press, arguing that they look like campaign literature. But how are financially pressed journals like this one supposed to produce full issues every time we want to endorse? The state-subsidized Texan can afford to put out a 16-plus page paper five times a week; this issue marks our only second 16-pager ever. Also, our bus pamphlet didn't stray from usual Polemicist procedure: It was the third pamphlet we issued this semester.

Like the Soviet apparatchik who applauds glasnot until it threatens her, Anantha would give away students' free-speech rights to preserve his privileges in the present Vichy-style government. Anatha should feel lucky: In real revolutions they shoot collaborationists.

Kevin McHargue
Daily Texan editor-elect

In El Salvador, newspaper editors who don't obey the dictates of governmental authority can find themselves murdered, imprisoned or exiled. But with no such threat hanging over his head, Kevin McHargue crumbled before the meager weight of outgoing SA president Jerry Haddican.

McHargue had organized a debate between SA presidential runoff candidates Toni Luckett and Tracy Silna. The questioning panel would include editors from both alternative and mainsteam UT press. Right after the general elections, both camps agreed to the debate and it was scheduled for the night before the runoff.

Two days before the debate, Haddican bounded into McHargue's office and - in the most forceful moment of his presidency - demanded not only that the debate be cancelled, but that The Texan impose a total press blackout concerning the issue - both news and editorials. In a move that will likely set the tone for his tenure as editor, McHargue dutifully agreed.

Now this was no gun-toting Salvadorian soldier threatening McHague. It was only Jerry Haddican, whose milquetoast administration has been most notable for its invisibility on almost every major issue. To be steamrolled by such a figure raises grave doubts as to whether McHargue can rescue The Texan from its ever-growing lameness.

We expect Texan editors to meekly bow to authority figures. But who could have predicted that McHargue would facilitate a back-room sellout to so weak an official? If McHargue has any backbone, he will publicly explain his role in this sordid incident in the "Between the Lines" section of the paper.

The Daily Texan

The Texan has been floundering for years. It's been consistently scooped on major issues by alternative press, and barely pretends to cover the UT campus anymore. But our frustruation with The Texan reached new heights with the March 21 issue. Out of 20 pages, our student newspaper ran only three - that's right, three - university news stories, as opposed to twelve articles from the Associated Press. The front page contained three AP stories out of five articles, and no university coverage.

Texan loyalists argue that the paper's budget is too small, and its space too constrained, to expand its coverage. But when they get space, it's rarely put to any credible use. Often, as on March 21, they simply produce a worthless advertising supplement. If The Texan wants to regain respond on campus, that must change.

Incoming editor Kevin McHargue must recognize the failure of The Texan as an institution designed to educate and inform the university community. Further, he must act to overhaul this wheezing, stumbling bureaucracy, or bear the shame of its failures as his own.

The idea of a student newspaper containing one "University Page" is tantamount to a university having one "free speech area." Both notions are reductionist: they limit discourse and debate, and they deny students access to a free flow of information.

Instead, the entire paper should be a university paper. All AP stories, as well as state and local news without UT angles, should relegated to one-half page of news briefs, much like The Wall Street Journal does with non-financial headlines. If students read about an event and want more information, they can go read a real newspaper. The Austin American-Statesman runs all the same wire stories as The Texan anyway. For that matter, the majority of AP stories The Texan receives never see print. By printing briefs of all wire stories, students would have access to information about more events, not less. And since AP stories don't go into much depth anyway, running eight column inches won't inform the readers much more than just publishing the lead.

State, city and cops general reporters' positions should be abolished, and university beats should be created in their place. Why not a high-tech research beat? Certainly The Texan sports page would improve, as more sports received more intense coverage. Perhaps The Texan could even cover UT's non-faculty employees, who rarely receive decent coverage even, regretfully, in the alternative press.

The largest obstacle to implementing this transformation is inertia: the student bureaucrats who run The Texan just won't question the assumptions that have governed the paper for years. If he wanted to, McHargue could initiate the project unilaterally. But judging from his performance in the Haddican affair, we fear the paper will continue to wallow in its own irrelevancy, mediocrity and apologia.

The Austin American-Statesman

The Statesman has been accused often in the past of serving as a public relations vehicle for local industry. But never has that relationship been more evident than in the Sunday, Feb. 25 editions special advertising section, "Forecast Austin: Progress and Promise." In that section, public relations specialists and CEOs applauded the current Austin economy. In many cases the paper simply transcribed press releases verbatim into their newspages. NCNB Texas' senior executive in Austin, Guy Bodine invoked the image of "cranes ... swinging into action as new office complexes go up." This should be a nightmare image for Austin, which The Washington Post has called the most overbuilt city in the country, but Bodine holds it up an as ideal.

Every PR hack in town wrote, including our own UT President Cunningham, who trotted out his same, tired eight-point plain and promised a renewed "emphasis" on undergraduate education. Sound familiar? Cunningham goes on to say, however, that most of this emphasis will take the form of new committees, and that he refuses to divert money from high-tech research to undergraduate education any time soon.

We applaud the Statesman's brazenness in publicly declaring its subservience to local business and political interests. But its "news" should never be seen as anything but an extended press release for its Chamber of Commerce constituency.