The Breeze, a Storm: Student Press Freedom Torn at JMU

“Eww . . . Disgusting.”  “Like a journalistic terror attack.”  “You say tomato, I say Gestapo.” Those are just a few of the many, many outraged responses I have received about the Rodney-King-style beatdown of college press freedom at James Madison University.

As you have probably read by now, police and a county prosecutor with a search warrant she had no right to waive around very recently stormed into the Breeze newsroom at JMU.  They seized (digitally burned) hundreds of unpublished photos taken by newspaper staffers during the recent school-block-party-turned-riot, Springfest.  Inexplicably, they also burned lots of other photos unrelated to the event.  Breeze staffers were forced to watch, mad and mystified, while their intellectual property was taken.

The police and prosecutor had NO legal backing for their actions.  ZERO.  NONE.  In fact, it is the opposite.  At that moment, they were breaking the law.  Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists: “One of the first things I said to a colleague was, ‘It sounds to me like the prosecutor needs to spend more time with law books and less time watching Law & Order.'”

As the Washington Post similarly noted in a shaking of its editorial fist about the incident, “State courts have recognized that newspapers may withhold materials from the government unless officials make a compelling case to the contrary, a process that is supposed to play out in court in response to a subpoena. In this case there was no subpoena, no court arguments and no recognition that raiding a newspaper makes a mockery of the First Amendment.”

My take: Eww . . . Disgusting.  This is a direct, open-palmed slap in the face to student journalism.  This apparent attorney and these supposed law enforcers stepped over legal and ethical boundaries in a manner they would have NEVER mimicked if dealing with the professional press.  These student journalists should be applauded, not bullied.  They legally captured images of a public happening and rightfully sought to protect them.

To the police and prosecutor involved in this Gestapo tactic: Uphold the rule of law.  Do not break it when it suits you.  Want to take a look at the Breeze?  Fine, just do it from a distance.

One Response to “The Breeze, a Storm: Student Press Freedom Torn at JMU”
  1. Mike says:

    It’s time for JMU and all voters to take a stand against the gross misuse of power displayed by Commonwealth Attorney – Marsha Garst. If a petition is a viable option to oust her from office – lets get it done!

    This is not the first time Ms. Garst has overstepped her legal boundaries to create a media farce for political gain. The only difference this time is that JMU has the legal resources and sheer numbers to do something about it.

    Ms. Garst should know the law – if she doesn’t she has no business being the Commonwealth Attorney. Ms. Garst doesn’t abide by the law, all she cares about is advancing her political career at the expense of other peoples reputation. It is obvious that this was done as a media spotlight for Ms. Garst since she was front and center to serve the search warrant. She probably thought that her picture would appear in the paper and she would come across as the enforcer against all that is bad – JMU.

    The law was broken. I understand JMU/The Breeze not needing punitive damage in a court of law. However, if you or I broke the law we would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This should be taken as far as possible through the legal system to show that this type of illegal action will not be tolerated!

    If a petition is not an option, lets show our outrage at the polls at her next election!