Too High a Price

Chapman University student paper decided not to run an article on President Bush’s visit after being told his office would need to approve it.

October 21, 2019
 
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
George W. Bush

Chapman University’s student reporters received a rare opportunity earlier this month to cover a speech by President George W. Bush. However, they opted not to cover the visit after they were told by Chapman that any articles would have to be preapproved by Bush’s team.

In an editorial published Oct. 13, The Panther’s editorial board explained that they chose not to cover the speech because the restrictions went against their journalistic values.

“We knew that we would be giving up on an incredible opportunity -- one we had worked tirelessly to get -- but we also knew that it was tarnish our reputation and go against the ethics we’ve been preaching in our editorials,” wrote the editorial board. “So we decided that we couldn’t and wouldn’t cooperate with these demands. No one is worth bending over backwards for, not even a former president. It pained us to give it up, but we did.”

“In planning for this milestone visit, we agreed the event would be closed to the media and any press materials would be shared with President Bush’s office before it was released to the public,” said Jamie Ceman, vice president of strategic marketing and communications at Chapman, in a written statement. “President Bush was our guest and a friend of our longtime donors -- the two individuals being recognized that night -- and we were being respectful of his desire not to have any press in the room.”

Bush was on campus Oct. 9 for the 20th anniversary and naming of the George L. Argyos School of Business and Economics. The event raised money for the Argyos School endowment, and tickets were selling for $5,000. George Argyos, an alumnus of Chapman, served as a U.S. ambassador to Spain under President Bush

The Panther reporters would have been some of the few students or members of the press in attendance, as the event was closed to the media.

The student reporters who were to attend were originally told they could not record or photograph the event. In the editorial they wrote this stipulation would make accurately covering the event more difficult, but that they were “over the moon” at the prospect of such exclusive access and were willing to comply. The students drew the line at Bush’s office having final approval over the piece.

“Words cannot begin to describe how unethical this is. It goes against everything we swear to uphold,” reads the editorial. “Free press means it comes directly from the hands of journalists to the eyes of the readers. It doesn’t go through a third-party PR source that modifies it to comply with their demands. It goes straight to the people.”

“The Bush organization agreed to let the Panther students attend the event as guests, not as press, so they could experience the evening,” said Ceman. “Being that they would not have been there as members of the press, it was a Chapman University decision to hold them to the same standard we held ourselves, and we asked that they comply with our agreement to share any content prior to publishing.”

The Panther editorial team concluded their statement of explanation by saying they had no regrets over their decision.

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