Archive for April, 2017

Oh, the irony…

So much for the shirts.

Earlier this week, I wrote about Fox & Friends plagiarizing the student newspaper at Duquesne, a small Catholic university in Pittsburgh. Irked and confused, the students tried to contact Fox News – which, of course, ignored them.

I wanted to turn their frowns upside down, so I designed this T-shirt to sell via a fundraising company called Bonfire…

…and I purposefully used the Fox News logo – because I wanted Fox’s flesh-eating lawyers to force me to stop.

I thought it’d be funny and ironic if they sent me a cease-and-desist letter that essentially said, “You can’t steal our logo to make a point about our plagiarism!”

Instead, Bonfire itself emailed me Tuesday…

We’ve detected a potential problem with your shirt design. Specifically, your artwork incorporates the following elements that may be protected under a trademark: Fox News. To proceed with your current shirt design, we require a signed letter of permission from the trademark holder.

But Bonfire said I could create an “alternate design,” which I did…

…and which was also rejected because Fox has apparently created its own custom font – which looks strangely like Arial to me. But what do I know?

So then I designed this – using Arial…

…but fed up or scared or whatever, Bonfire closed my account. All that’s left is this odd page that implies the T-shirt campaign closed all by itself, and four people got their shirts.

In reality, no one got nothing. That means 37 people are shirtless today, and the staff at The Duquesne Duke is out $81 in its cut of the sales. Bonfire emailed me this morning, “We refund all orders for canceled campaigns and we did so for your orders.”

This leads me to conclude…

A T-shirt company is more ethical than Fox News, and Fox News is less communicative than a T-shirt company.

To skirt trademark law, I’m going to print the original shirts myself. But I won’t sell them. I’ll give them to The Dusquesne Duke staff, who can give them away to whoever they please. That’ll make it editorial comment, just on cloth instead of paper.

Or The Duke staff can actually sell the shirts – because that might be the only way they’ll ever hear back from Fox News. Up to them.

Dammit, nothing is simple in journalism these days.

See no evil

Fox News plagiarizes college students. And all they get is a funny T-shirt.

Here’s how the journalism food chain works these days – with cable news as sharks and college journalists as plankton…


The student newspaper at Duquesne University, a small private Catholic school in Pittsburgh, writes a story about LGBT students who don’t want a Chick-fil-A opening on campus.

The newspaper, called The Duke, quotes one Student Government leader with the groovy name of Niko Martini: “Chick-fil-A has a questionable history on civil rights and human rights.”

The Duke also quotes a woman named Rachel Coury, the president of Duquesne’s LGBT student group…

I’ve tried very hard within the last semester and a half to promote this safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community. So I fear that with the Chick-fil-A being in Options that maybe people will feel that safe place is at risk.


A website called Campus Reform, a conservative “watchdog to the nation’s higher education system,” picks up The Duke’s story.

Written by an “investigative reporter,” the headline is…

Students ‘fear’ Chick-fil-A will jeopardize ‘safe place’

…yet the entire story is a rewrite of The Duke’s reporting. At least that’s acknowledged – sort of…

“Chick-fil-A has a questionable history on civil rights and human rights,” Martini remarked in a statement to The Duquesne Duke.

So the headline is based on one student’s comment, and the story contains not one quote – or even fact – that The Duke didn’t write. In other words, this “investigative reporter” did zero investigating. Or even reporting.


The story goes national on The Daily Caller, a conservative website co-founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Under the headline University’s LGBT Students ‘Fear’ Arrival Of Chick-fil-A, here’s the lede…

Some students at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University live in “fear” of the arrival of a Chick-fil-A fast-food restaurant to their college’s food fair, Campus Reform reports.

The Duke only gets mentioned once, in the middle of the story…

“Chick-fil-A has a questionable history on civil rights and human rights,” Martini told The Duquesne Duke.


The story inevitably makes Fox News.

Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt interviews Sean Parnell, a former Army Ranger and Duquesne alum who’s an occasional Fox commentator.

Under a graphic that reads, “RUFFLING FEATHERS,” Earhardt sums up the story without mentioning any sources, which implies Fox did the reporting.

Parnell jumps in with comments like, “They’re a bunch of babies” and “It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

(He also says some things I personally agree with, like, “Nobody is forcing them to eat at Chick-fil-A.” But this isn’t about me.)

Then Earhardt says this about Duquesne’s “gay straight alliance”…

We reached out to the president, and she sent this message to us: “I fear with the Chick-fil-A maybe people will feel that safe place is at risk.”

Except that’s a lie. Fox News never reached out to anyone.


The Duke reclaims its story by asking that president, Rachel Coury, if she really did tell Fox News the exact same thing she told them.

Coury replied…

Fox News stated that they reached out to me for comment, and that I gave them the statement they read on-air, but this is false. I never communicated with Fox News. I never gave them the statement they read on-air.

Unlike the “professionals” who didn’t follow up on this story, The Duke tried…

The Duke reached out to Fox News Wednesday night, and did not receive a response by press time.

They still haven’t. And that really pisses off these two women.


“What Fox News did – or more specifically, what it didn’t do – violates a core part of SPJ’s Code of Ethics,” says SPJ president Lynn Walsh, whose day job is investigative executive producer at the NBC affiliate in San Diego.

“The timing couldn’t be more ironic – this is Ethics Week at SPJ,” Walsh says. “One major tenet of our code is: Never plagiarize. Always attribute. By not contacting the student and then using a quote from another publication without attribution, Fox News didn’t practice ethical journalism standards. To do this to college students seem even more wrong.”

That’s precisely what galls The Duke’s staff.

“It’s absurd that as 20-somethings working for a school newspaper, we at The Duke have a better grasp of media ethics than Fox News,” says editor-in-chief Kaye Burnet. “If one of my writers was caught plagiarizing another journalist’s work like this, they would be removed from The Duke’s staff immediately.”

What really enrages Burnet is that her reporter, Zachary Landau, got shafted.

“Zach is a volunteer,” she says. “To see Ainsley pass off Zach’s work as her own was disgusting. Obviously, Fox has so much more power and influence than The Duke. They can steal other people’s work without consequence, and there’s very little we can do about it.”

That’s the the most powerful journalism lesson Burnet and her staff will learn this month. Maybe ever.


Sadly, SPJ doesn’t have a lot of power, either. But we do have T-shirts.

So to raise money (for poor Zach) and awareness (for Burnet and her staff), SPJ SMACK is selling shirts that say, “The Duquesne Duke” on the front and “We’re so good, Fox News steals our s#!t” on the back.

Want one? It’s yours for only $15. ORDER NOW!

I bought two – one for me and one for Ainsley Earhardt. Wonder if she’ll wear it.

Finger in the Pye

Can pointing a finger cost you a job?

It did for Joe Pye, a senior at Florida Atlantic University. And now he’s fightin’… amused?

Pye recently ran for editor of FAU’s student newspaper. The staff voted for him 12-0 over his opponent, and the school’s Student Media Advisory Board – consisting of professionals, professors, and students – unanimously chose him.

That was two weeks ago. But he still didn’t have the job.

FAU lets its Student Government “confirm” the editor. Yes, the same Student Government the newspaper investigates.

In the decade since FAU created this silly – and you’ll soon see, illegal – rule, no editor has ever not been confirmed. Until Pye.

What did he do to piss off SG? He “was not tact in his responses to the questions posed by the senate,” says Andrea Oliver, a Student Affairs associate vice president.

Here’s how he was not tact…

It wasn’t even a middle finger.

Tuesday evening, a student senator began the “confirmation hearing” by asking Pye about his plans as editor.

“What do I plan to do?” Pye replied, pointing at them. “Keep watch over all you guys.”

They really didn’t like that.

They also didn’t like his attitude, especially about their suggestion to add a newspaper rack on a satellite campus 25 miles away, which teaches less than 150 of FAU’s 30,000 students.

“Do you want me to put a bin there?” Pye asked. “We don’t have money for that.” He suggested they give him the money, but that went nowhere.

Student senators persisted with questions about this small campus — which one admitted to never visiting. Here’s my favorite question, lifted verbatim from a recording the student newspaper made:

How do you plan on, like, broadening … are there going to be interviews on other campuses … what do you plan on doing to create a better connection between the campuses … you guys are the press.

Joe simply replied, “We have the website. I don’t have any other bins.”

All told, his hearing took less than five minutes. Since none of the questions were about what the newspaper actually reports, Pye’s last words before the vote were, “You should read us sometime.”

He lost 5-2. Now the fun begins.

This man laughed when he heard what happened.

Frank LoMonte is a noted media attorney and executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, DC. He called FAU’s confirmation process “a horrible, horrible mechanism.”

Then he laughed dismissively.

“If this isn’t the only place in America that does this, I’ve never heard of it,” LoMonte says. And he’s been studying college media for nearly a decade.

LoMonte calls FAU’s rule “an invitation to break the law.” Why? Because at a public university, the newspaper can’t be punished for anything to do with its content – that’s the very definition of the First Amendment.

Yet LoMonte says, “When you interview for a job like this, there’s no way to keep content out of the interview.”

What makes LoMonte really laugh is this question: “Where does FAU think it goes from here?”

This is where FAU thinks it goes, according to associate VP Oliver…

The first step is for Joe to file a petition to the student court and request a hearing. He will then have an opportunity to discuss the senate meeting. The student court can uphold or overturn the court’s decision. If the student court upholds the senate’s decision, the student can then file an appeal with the Vice President of Student Affairs. The Vice President of Student Affairs would review the senate hearing meeting minutes, the student court meeting minutes, and the appeal submitted by the student. The Vic President for Student Affairs can uphold or overturn the decision. The decision of the Vice President is final.

…and if you read that without your corneas glazing over, you get a cookie.

Pointing back at FAU.

This afternoon, Pye will discuss his next steps with his staff. Among his amusing options…

  • Meekly go through the laborious appeals process and hope someone recognizes the law when it smacks them in the face.
  • Fiercely go through the appeals process and use every chance to decry and mock it.
  • Call himself the editor, run the paper, and force FAU to do something about it. If FAU holds up his paycheck, sue the school.

What will Pye do? He’s mulling it over. But he doesn’t seem to be leaning toward “meekly.”

“I personally find it ridiculous that Student Government needs to have a say over who is editor of the newspaper,” he says. “If my ‘conduct’ wasn’t to their liking, I hate to see how they’ll react as real politicians getting grilled by real journalists.”

Or how they’ll react to a real lawsuit in front of a real judge.

Full disclosure: I’ve advised the FAU student newspaper as a part-timer and volunteer since 1998. Over the years, this isn’t nearly the dumbest thing I’ve seen. Or the funniest. This might be. Or this.


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