September 17th, 2008
What part of “freedom of the press” doesn’t Scalia, Utah State understand?
By Donald W. Meyers
As reported by SPJ member Penny Byrne, when Associate Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at Utah State University recently, the university acceded to his demand that no television cameras be allowed to film his speech, which was open to the public. This meant that USU’s video journalists were denied the right to cover the biggest story on campus this year because Scalia objected to the tools of their profession for some unknown reason.
This is appalling on two levels. First, Scalia purports to be a strict constructionist when it comes to the Constitution. So what doesn’t he understand about the prohibition on abridging press freedom as written in the Bill of Rights? The language is straightforward. Telling one group of reporters that they cannot report because they happen to use a video camera instead of a notepad or microphone is discriminatory. This is not the first time Scalia has done this. At another appearance on the east coast, reporters were forced to delete digital recordings of his speech or face arrest.
But USU doesn’t get off blameless either. The university is a public institution, and one dedicated to the open exchange of information. It should have told Scalia that it would not put any restrictions on journalists wanting to cover the speech. It may have meant losing Scalia as a speaker, but it’s better to stand on constitutional principle than to let a petulant speaker run roughshod over the First Amendment.