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Rights Questioned in School Scandal
Janill Briones
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I believe that we Americans have it good with our right to freedom of speech and of the press. I also believe that we should use that right responsibly.

I was shocked that in a recent nationwide survey of teens’ opinions of our First Amendment rights, a third said they believe that the press (newspapers, magazines and other media) has “too much freedom to do what it wants.” It surprised me that the number was so large.

Then when I conducted my own version of the survey in my school, Science Skills Center HS, 42% also said the press has too much freedom. I wondered why they thought that.

School in a Frenzy

By then, I’d discovered that the questions were confusing (read the story "Do Teens Care About Free Speech?" for more on that). But I also realized that right before I conducted the survey, our school paper had published an article that had the whole school in a frenzy. It might have soured my classmates’ view of the press and made them feel that people who exercise their right to freedom of speech do so irresponsibly.

Written by “Jean Don R.B.,” a pen name, the article said the school had a lot of people coming out as gay, and how that must be stopped. The article quoted a psychologist saying, “Sometimes it helps a teen when others discriminate against them. It helps or forces them to act or try to be straight.” The article ends by warning us to make sure that gay people don’t convince us to become gay as well.

I couldn’t believe someone would write something so cruel and insulting. It seemed like a total put-down of gay people.

Then I realized that all of the sources quoted were fake. The whole thing was made up—it wasn’t a reported story at all. I felt that it gave journalists a bad name and I thought to myself, “No wonder so many people hate the press so much.”

So many students and teachers were upset about the story that we had an assembly about it that following Monday. The editor of the paper, a teacher, said the article was supposed to be a satire, making fun of those intolerant of gay people.

That’s Not Funny

Most students and teachers still found it offensive and said that if it were meant to be a joke, then the writer should’ve made that clear and not make it seem as if it were a real story.

Several students and teachers asked the editor to apologize for the article. Defending herself, she argued that the writer had the right to freedom of speech, and that she wasn’t going to apologize for that.

I agree that the article’s writer had every right to speak what was on his mind, but I believe that he should have been more responsible about it. Making up facts and presenting them as truths undermines the overall reliability and trustworthiness of a publication or news show.

In order for people to trust the press, the press must act responsibly with their right.

This story is part of the media/news literacy series, which is generously supported by the McCormick Foundation.

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(NYC-2005-05-07b)

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