Hate article triggers changes in Cal State Fresno paper

A change in semesters, student-group funding and campus newspaper leadership seems to have squelched the anti-Semitic sentiment that marked the ending of the fall term at Cal State Fresno.

Nevertheless, the Anti-Defamation League is continuing to monitor the situation and implement a program designed to eliminate future problems.

Following the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Fresno's campus newspaper, The Daily Collegian, published an inflammatory opinion piece. The writer, Hadi Yazdanpanah, called Rabin "the most despicable mass murderer that the 20th century has seen, making Hitler look like Big Bird," and said Zionist Jews "dictate and run the United Nations and the United States."

Three days later, in response to criticism, the paper's editors defended their actions in an editorial. The managing editor said she spent six hours with the writer to ensure there were facts to back up his opinions. The editor wrote, "judging from the response [to the column], we are serving our purpose."

The university president penned a letter to the campus newspaper saying Yazdanpanah's piece was "riddled with inaccuracies" and is "a shameful example of bigotry and hatred which has no place in civilized discourse." The Daily Collegian, citing editorial privilege, did not print the letter.

Meanwhile, local ADL representatives met with Cal State Fresno president John Welty and faculty from the mass communications and journalism department to carve out a plan to prevent future occurrences.

On May 2, the department will present a campuswide program that the ADL developed in response to a similar problem at Arizona State University last spring.

According to Jeffrey Ross, ADL director of campus affairs and higher education in New York, several local print and television journalists will sit on a panel and discuss how they handle sensitive situations.

"In situations like this, we want to put out the fire but also put a positive program in place," Ross said.

In addition to setting up the ADL panel program, the faculty of the communications department will take over the operations of the newspaper in July.

In December, the Associated Students Inc. — Cal State Fresno's student government — decided to no longer financially support the Daily Collegian.

ASI senator Brian Haven said the decision to pull $26,000 per semester from the newspaper was not made in response to the Rabin debacle. However, the Rabin article "is representative of the problems they'd been having.

"Plus, a government agency running a newspaper is a bad notion. We represent the entire student body. Too many students came to our office irate and saying they shouldn't have to pay for it [the newspaper]."

Beginning in July, the newspaper's $83,000-per-semester-budget will be raised entirely through advertising sales. Journalism faculty will serve as advisers.

The Daily Collegian's new editor, Jevon Swanson, is already making changes — like establishing a beat reporting system and meeting with campus groups and organizations.

"There is a residue from last semester. Things were not handled correctly," Swanson said. "This sits heavy on the minds of the staff. But we're bringing in a fresh perspective.

"I don't ever want this paper to be caught in such a gray area again. Of course there are First Amendment rights, but we also have a responsibility to the community, too."

ADL's Ross seemed pleased by the response.

"I hate to see papers being defunded. But I think it's the way the students vented their outrage in the hijacking of their newspaper into statements of hatred," Ross said. "I think [Yazdanpanah] had an anti-Semitic agenda. I think the editors were naive and a little stupid."

The defunding of the paper sends a message about responsibility, Ross said, and the upcoming conference shows "there is a better way to do things."