Carolina Journal News Reports
CHAPEL HILL – A UNC-Chapel Hill student was fired from The Daily Tar Heel, the school’s student newspaper, Wednesday after she wrote a column on airport security that maintained Arabs should be “stripped naked and cavity-searched if they get within 100 yards of an airport.”
Jillian Bandes, a junior from Florida, was the author of the column that ran in Tuesday’s edition of the school paper. She says she was just stating her opinion on airport security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was never given an opportunity from The Daily Tar Heel editors to defend herself.
In an interview with the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy she said the column was based on a trip she took to Israel sponsored by The Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, a Washington, D.C., think tank that attempts to educate the public on terrorism-related issues. She also included comments from Arab students and a professor who supported racial profiling.
“I don’t care if they’re being inconvenienced,” Bandes wrote. “I don’t care if it seems as though their rights are being violated. I care about my life. I care about the lives of my family and friends. And I care about the lives of the Arabs and Arab-Americans I’m privileged to know and study with. They’re some of the brightest, kindest people I’ve ever met.”
After running a letter to the editor Wednesday from the Muslim Students Association denouncing the column and questioning the validity of some of the comments in the article, Chris Coletta, opinion editor for The Daily Tar Heel, met with Bandes Wednesday afternoon to inform her of her termination. Bandes said she was never given an opportunity to write a column apologizing to offended students, a practice that has precedent with the paper. She said that was going to be the topic of her next column.
Bandes was fired after writing just three columns for The Daily Tar Heel.
“His mind was already made up,” Bandes said of Coletta. “There was really no contest.”
Coletta refused to go into detail about the firing saying only that, “It’s unfortunate. I wish it didn’t have to happen.” He also said that his only public comments on the situation would be made on his Daily Tar Heel blog, The Bullhorn, the editor’s blog and a column published Thursday.
The students Bandes quoted in the column claimed that she misrepresented their comments. Bandes said the quotes were accurate but admits to using hyperbole in her own comments to make her points in the column. But said that she didn’t believe her actions were outside the bounds of journalism standards.
Bandes said the column began as a comment on the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. But as she wrote the column, Bandes said it evolved into something more and she decided to focus on racial profiling’s role in fighting terrorism. She told her sources that she was looking at Sept. 11 and racial profiling when she interviewed them.
For the most part, Bandes said she received comments from students who supported her right to say what she wrote, not necessarily the ideas that she supported. She said she also received some “profane e-mails.”
When asked if she could rewrite the column would she write the same way, Bandes responded, “Nope.”
“I wanted to get people talking,” Bandes said. “I did that. It also got me fired.”
Shannon Blosser (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a staff writer with the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Chapel Hill.