Bird-Flip Flap: Middle Finger Photo in State News at Michigan State Spurs Criticism, Apology

The State News at Michigan State University is apologizing to readers for a photo published earlier this week showing a student, well, flipping the bird — a pair of birds actually.

On page nine of Monday’s 12-page SN issue, a photo captures a male student clearly extending the middle fingers on both his hands to an invisible crowd. Judging by the cutline beneath the pic, the act is one of defiant exuberance. The young man is apparently celebrating his fraternity’s victory in a step show, an annual dance competition among black frats and sororities at MSU.


1In a story on the bird-flip flap that followed, the paper minced no words, saying the image “sparked outrage” — online and on campus. A series of tweets — some sporting the hashtag #DoBetterStateNews — shared various criticisms. A group of students also gathered up and brought hundreds of copies of Monday’s issue to the SN newsroom in protest.

According to the paper, a segment of student readers see the photo as a pockmark on the positive-minded event and possible proof the paper is out of touch with minority issues and stereotypes.

As the vice president of the fraternity whose member is shown giving the middle fingers tells the SN, “We do a lot of positive things, and I feel like that picture did a lot to bring down the image of black males on campus. It contributes to the same negative image that everyone tries to have.”

For its part, State News editors quickly apologized on Twitter and yesterday in print. They also removed the photo from the website, running new photos of the dance competition in its place. In addition, according to separate tweets, it appears a portion of the staff met with some student critics Monday. And the paper republished a column by the school’s Black Student Alliance president which calls for a year-round push to more fervently “acknowledge and actively listen to the voices of the oppressed.”

State News editor-in-chief Celeste Bott: “On behalf of the State News staff — and on [a] personal level as well — I would like to sincerely apologize for this careless error. This mistake completely overshadowed a spectacular performance and caused students on this campus to feel hurt and misrepresented, which is the last thing we would ever want to do. I also want to thank everyone who spoke out about the photo on social media and visited our newsroom yesterday afternoon for holding us accountable. I hope that dialogue continues.”

2 Responses to “Bird-Flip Flap: Middle Finger Photo in State News at Michigan State Spurs Criticism, Apology”
  1. Shakey says:

    Maybe they were just taking their cue from mlive, which recently topped a hockey story with a photo of two kids flipping off the winning team…

  2. Darren Johnson says:

    Having advised school papers, I can see how this could happen. Students manning a newspaper for the first time in their lives try to push the envelope — in this case, I think the use of the bird was more the statement the staff was trying to make than anything racial, though I could be wrong. Was it the journalistically correct choice? Not at all. The photo does not represent what happened at the event, according to the headline and story. The correct photo choice would have been of the team stepping. These young journalists made a big mistake, and they likely will learn from that.