The best money they didn’t spend

I ran across this while trolling some student media sites
and found myself wondering if Joseph Heller ever considered writing about
student newspapers.

The gist of the story is that a pro-life group tried to run
a 12-page insert in a number of college papers around the state of Wisconsin.
A number of them ran the insert while two papers decided against it. In
looking at what ad rates tend to be for inserts in these types of papers, the
papers were likely to make about $200-$600 if the group bought inserts for
their whole press run, depending on the size of the paper.

On campuses like Marquette, which apparently ran the ad and
was lauded for it, it’s easy to take the stand of being
pro-life. After all, it’s a Jesuit institution, the place is run by the clergy
and there’s a crucifix in every classroom. There’s not a lot of risk that you
won’t be preaching to the choir. However, the student journalists at Oshkosh
and Stevens Point said, “Thanks, but no thanks. We’re going to try to avoid
starting a shit storm on our campus.”

Of course, the minute the pro-life group picked up the phone
or faxed in the order for the ad space, the kids were dead in the water, no
matter what they did. Had they decided to run the inserts, they would likely be
viewed as money-grubbing whores who would run ads for Hitler if the price were
right. The folks from the pro-choice side of the aisle would likely speak out
against the ads, arguing that they were promoting an ideology and offering
incorrect information. (In a discussion with other folks I know in the student
media world, some student newspapers have actually taken the insert to an
OB/GYN, a psychologist and other folks to see if there were problems in the
ads. There were “errors” I was told, and thus the papers didn’t run
them.) In short, the kids would get killed for this.

Having decided against running the ads, the kids are also
getting killed. I’ve heard that alums are calling these schools complaining
about the lack of “free speech” on the campus. (I’m not going into the
difference between free speech and paid speech. All I’m going to say is that we
should require a great many people who were born here to take the same civics
classes and tests we give to people from other countries who want to join our
happy clan.) The pro-life group has put out a
press release skewering the kids for censoring them, which has gotten at least
two newspapers and FOX News to follow up with breathless stories about how these papers are
“under fire” for their choice.

The one question that hasn’t really been answered is this
one: If a pro-choice group sent the EXACT SAME type of ad that attempted the
EXACT SAME type of thing for its ideology, would the kids have taken it? If so, they deserve to get
their asses kicked all over the place for bias. However, no one seems to be asking that
question. It’s so much easier to portray this as a case of liberal media bias
instead of trying to see what’s really happening here. All they likely want to
do is cover the news, as opposed to being the news. In no material I’ve seen on
this did anyone at either paper say, “Hey you conservative jerk-off, go fuck
yourself with your insert.” There is no indication that the students said they
wouldn’t run an ad from the group, only that this big-ass magazine didn’t fit
within the parameters of acceptable advertising because it failed to offer a
good or a service. If the pro-life group wants to fight this, the folks there
should ask to buy a full-page ad on the back of each paper that offers a 1-800
line for women who are pregnant and scared and want to consider adoption
instead of abortion. Nothing else. That would push back on the kids to see if
this is a case of bias or simply a case of policy.

However, quite frankly, this isn’t about the ads. I’d wager
that the group was elated that they were turned away by these papers and
disappointed that more folks didn’t follow suit. If the campuses upon which
I’ve worked are any indication, the kids who pick up the paper would have
shaken out the insert, let it fall unread to the ground and went about their
day. No one would have given a crap on campus except the “other side” group,
which would likely start the row. Instead, by rejecting the ad, the newspapershelped the pro-life group to emulate its
Lord and crawl up on the big wooden cross. As martyrs to the cause, they could
“woe as me” for days and days, with the media dutifully running front-page
stories about how this all went down. In short, they got more attention by this
alleged suppression of freedom than they would have if the kids had shut up and
taken the money.

In short, it’s a perfect strategy and likely the best money
they didn’t spend.

At the very least, I think they owe the kids a check.

4 thoughts on “The best money they didn’t spend

  1. What I’m wondering is, if you want to distribute a 12-page magazine instead of placing an actual ad, why go to a student newspaper? Every town of any size has got at least one print shop, and most of them also have seedy direct-mail operators who deliver flyers for grocery stores and the local quack doctors for a half-cent per copy. Seems to me that would have been much more efficient and less likely to be refused; but of course it also isn’t a political gotcha that lets them once again misappropriate the term “free speech.”
    God, I hate those lying fuckers. If a forced-birther told me the sky was blue, I’d have to look out the window, and I’d expect it to be green with mauve polka-dots, frankly.

  2. To me the problem is that the media refuses “offensive” ads all the time. Additionally, various forms of media have always been associated with furthering political aims (examples such as the Yellow Journalism and today, even ignoring Faux News, newspapers are often called liberal or conservative). And look at the whipping boy that the “Fairness Doctrine” has turned into.
    I don’t know the other colleges you mentioned and if they are public supported or not. Adds another layer.
    As you mentioned in the post, what would happen should a pro-abortion group try to take out the same ad?
    Sounds like a good case study !

  3. I used to work for a paper in south Louisiana who were approached by the Ku Klux Klan wanting to place an ad (this was in the 80’s). They initially refused to run anything; the Klan set up a picket line. Things got tense. Guns were spotted on the street.
    Their solution: they took the Klan’s money, ran the ad, but announced in an editorial in the same issue that they would donate the ad revenue to Klanwatch and the united Negro College Fund.
    THe Klan wasn’t very happy about that.

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