Last week, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, known as one of the court’s staunchest defenders of the First Amendment, gave a talk at a private high school. The fairly routine speech covered topics like the separation of powers and federalism.
After the a speech at Dalton, a private high school in Manhattan, Justice Kennedy’s office made an unusual request: they wanted to approve the text of any article the high school newspaper published about the event.
The paper went to press with a note saying: “We are not able to cover the recent visit by a Supreme Court justice due to numerous publication constraints.”
The article ran in the following issue of the school paper, with only minor tweaks by the Justice’s office. They “tidied up” some of Kennedy’s quotes to “better reflect the meaning the justice had intended to convey,” according to the New York Times.
Heads up, Justice Kennedy: a free press means you get quoted saying what you actually said, not what you meant to say. Even when it’s high school students doing the coverage.
The school’s administration complied entirely with the request, and also gave the school newspaper a long list of internal do’s and dont’s before the Justice’s visit. The paper’s faculty advisor, Kevin Slick, was sanguine about the requests, saying that they did not diminish the experience of having a Supreme Court Justice visit the school.
Advocates for press freedoms outside the school were less mellow. Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, told the New York Times that asking for a prepublication review of the article sent the wrong message to student journalists and the school. A professional publication, he said, would never agree to such a request and it was inappropriate to ask student journalists to do so.
High school journalists are unquestionably amateurs, but they’re still journalists. I have to side with the Student Press Law folks on this one: poor form. Kennedy’s staff should know better. They could have chosen to exclude the media from the event entirely, but if they were going to invite even young reporters in, they should have treated them with the respect normally accorded professionals in the field.
What do you think? Is this the lesson you’d want your kids to have from their high school newspaper experience?