Lawsuit-free since 9/14/05

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The End of the SLU GOP?

TBOC! has published many-a-controversial piece in the past, were it news or satire. What you are about to read is by far the most controversial, and the most damning.

Throughout the history of politics and journalism, many shifts in the political landscape as we know it have been initiated by leaks. Just think about it, if you will, for just a moment: the Pentagon Papers, or Deep Throat and CREEP. These leaks fundamentally changed politics and journalism, and their relationship to each other in the United States, forever.

In the cases of most great leaks, there is an ethical question that is ever present: if the journalist knows that the information s/he receives from an anonymous source may have been unlawfully obtained, can it still be published--that is, is it ethical to do so? Or perhaps a better question is, is it still desirable to publish it? The answer to the first question is, so far, yes, it is legal, as Bartnicki v. Vopper (532 U.S. __, 121 S. Ct. 1753 (2001)), Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co. (443 U.S. 97, 102 (1979)), and New York Times v. United States (403 U.S. 713 (1971)) have established. However, when is it desirable to do so? The Student Press Law Center, referring to Bartnicki v. Vopper, states, "The holding in Bartnicki paid special attention to the interest in the dissemination of information concerning public issues and its relationship to the privacy interests of individuals. In this instance, the Court held in favor of 'full and free dissemination of information concerning public information.'"

We think this is a fair qualification, and is what we took into consideration when weighing the following story, "The End of the SLU GOP." Many prominent members of the SLU GOP (also known as the SLU Republicans) also held elected positions in in Thelmo, St. Lawrence's student government. It is our belief that all public figures should be held to high standards of conduct, and so if and when said figures engage in highly illegal activity, and in some cases have lied about their involvement in such activity, it is in the best interest of the public--in this case, their constituents--to know. It is also in the best interest of the public for students to understand the dangerous social environment they may now be entering upon joining the SLU GOP. In fact, it is their right to know.

With that in mind, we bring you the following story. Our source for it, a member of the SLU GOP, provided us with information that seems to have been legally obtained. However, it is a leak nonetheless, so we we must naturally be cautious, and so felt the need for this preface, in order to explain the ethics of such a leak regardless of whether or not the information contained in the leak was obtained lawfully. It is not that we think the contents of the leak was obtained illegally--only initial suspicion arose from the fact that it seems too much a momumental blunder to send any of the information contained in the leak to anyone in the form that it took; so much so that it at first seemed improbable that the leak itself was real. However, it is apparent that the information is as real as the leak itself. We should also state that we did not solicit the leak, it was given voluntarily. To pay for sources, we believe, turns journalism into news for the highest bidder, and as such, is unethical. Lastly, please note: some names have been redacted to protect the anonymity of the individuals in question. And now, our story.

"The End of the SLU GOP?"
In the Winter of 2004, the original Take Back Our Campus! (TBOC!) website was born. The goal of TBOC! was to be a hodgepodge of news, satire, commentary, and sometimes a mixture of all three at once. Needless to say, the site aroused the ire of a group of St. Lawrence University GOP students when it ran its series of controversial profiles, known as "Spotlight."

In what was perhaps a defining moment for the site and the organization, TBOC!, in an edition of its Spotlight, published allegations that Thelmo Senator Jake Shea was a cocaine user. However, because of the organization's obligation to protect its sources, the allegation itself had to be couched in qualifying phrases such as "has been rumored," and "some say," or "some have said." Then-Senator Shea believed he knew who the author of the piece was and pursued who he supposed to be the author some time after s/he had already ceased to participate in the site or the organization because of mounting pressure from administrative figures and members of the SLU GOP. While writing this article, we contacted this person, now a SLU graduate, who recounted this period of time.

I had gotten out of the whole TBOC thing a while before the trouble about Jake's spotlight. For one thing, I was extremely busy with my thesis, but beyond that I received a threatening phone call from Sport [Jake] about that post. I patiently explained to him that whatever he thought, I was not in fact the author of the piece, nor did I orchestrate all the activities of "the left" on campus, which he seemed to think I did. Basically he said that if I wanted to graduate, I would see that it was removed. He also said that "You know it's not true," in reference to the coke allegations. "It's slander," he said. I knew it wasn't; we had extremely reliable sources, and I knew that TBOC always made a point to cross-check them before printing anything.

Shortly after that I was visited by campus security, who, after interrogating me, asked if I could see that the site was taken down. I contacted some people who I thought might still be running the site, and asked them take it down until graduation. I didn't think there was anything the university could actually do to me, but obviously I didn't want to take any chances. I was going to have family up for the ceremony, you know.

Anyway, I thought that would be the end of it. Unfortunately, Jake continued to press the matter, and over the summer after I graduated, a member of my family actually received a threatening phone call from, of all people, his father, who tacitly suggested that he might file a slander or libel lawsuit, or some such nonsense. Of course that never happened, but I guess now I finally know why.

The former tboccer added, "Funny though, I didn't realize that the site had been 'resurrected.' I figured it just fizzled out after the end of last summer."

This year's remaining contributors to TBOC!, as well as new contributors such as myself, assumed that that had been the end of the matter. That is, we did until we received an email from a member of the SLU GOP, who, on condition of anonymity, provided us with some rather startling information: emails from former SLU GOP president Elizabeth Wardell. As it turns out, TBOC!'s sources last year had been absolutely correct. But the emails imply that Shea was not the only former Thelmo senator--or SLU GOP member or office-holder, for that matter--who is involved in the use of the highly-illegal narcotic. It would appear that former president/Senator Liz Wardell may be as well, and former Senator Alicia McNally. Not only that, but, it appears, there exists a concerted effort on the part of SLU GOP officials, members, and some Thelmo senators to cover this up.

From what one can glean from the emails, the story seems to go like this: One day, or more likely, one evening, former Senators Wardell and Shea called former Senator McNally, asking her to supply them with cocaine. This upset McNally, who had been seen in the past using the illegal substance. Senator Wardell writes, "I'm sorry if you were offended that Jake and I called you. I heard last year from someone on our floor, and I honestly don't remember who, that [Name Redacted] walked in on you doing lines off your desk. And then Jake heard the same thing more recently... My apologies."

McNally responded simply, "Thank you for the apology. Please ask Jake to keep his mouth shut."

This, taken by itself, is perhaps damning enough for most. But the second email drove the final nails into the coffin. In it, Wardell writes to McNally as well as the present SLU GOP president, voicing her concern that cocaine use, by Senator Shea and others, has become an "'organization' issue." Responding to McNally's request that former Senator Shea "keep his mouth shut," Wardell stated,

He hasn't said anything and won't - because he expected the same from everyone else - especially the people who initially OFFERED to get drugs for him! My concern is [Name Redacted] since she has a huge mouth... how and why she was told I don't know... I've also asked [Name Redacted] to speak to [Name Redacted] about not saying anything. Now that this is suddenly a GOP issue, for whatever the hell reason, [Name Redacted] knowing is a huge liability. Just wanted to let you know who knows and who I've talked to, so we're all on the same page. Sorry again to put you in this position. I didn't know it would blow up to be an "organization" issue.

How widespread this use of a dangerous and illegal Schedule 1 narcotic is within the SLU GOP and Thelmo, we may never know. However, a few things now seem clear: First of all, the allegations against then-Senator Shea were not libelous, but stand in the light of fact as correct. Second of all, this problem has recently plagued the SLU GOP as a "GOP issue." Thirdly, the main three people implicated in the emails (former Senators Shea, Wardell, and McNally), during and after having held elected office were and are engaging in conduct that is destructive, irresponsible, illegal, threatening to the collective well being of the SLU community, and which defiled the office their constituents elected them to. Their constituencies, then, have a right to know.

More than that, this calls into question the very legitimacy of the SLU GOP as a Thelmo-sanctioned student organization. One must wonder, what are new recruits of the SLU GOP being drawn into? It seems that the answer is not just a political club, but an environment where they will be recklessly exposed to highly dangerous, highly illicit substances. At its heart, this is an issue of the safety of the students at this university.

The only questions now are, what will the administration do to rectify this, what will the implications be for the SLU GOP, and what will Thelmo do to ensure that such people are never again allowed the privilege of holding office? We suspect the administration, as per usual, will do nothing, but we hold hope for more from Thelmo. As for the SLU GOP, it seems that this is the beginning of their end. Rarely has a student organization been so thoroughly corrupted to the core as this, and never in our knowledge has any student organization engaged in endangering its members while simultaneously making a concerted effort to conceal this danger from the public eye, as it is apparent that the SLU GOP has.


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