OSU Student Newspaper Slammed for Islam Column

A controversial column about the international response to political cartoons portraying the prophet Muhammad published by the student newspaper at Oregon State University recently precipitated on-campus protests and criticism for the newspaper staff.

The trouble surfaced when OSU’s newspaper, The Daily Barometer, ran a column entitled “The Islamic double-standard” on Feb. 8 by microbiology major and newspaper columnist, Nathanael Blake.

In the article Blake argued that after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, Muslims had expected undue special treatment and said that the Islamic community’s response had been predictably savage.

“Bluntly put, we expect Muslims to behave barbarously: Muslims die in protests over supposed insults to Islam, ho-hum,” he wrote.

Matt Lewis, the Barometer’s Forum Page editor, said the column primarily elicited a large response, mainly negative, from faculty and students.

“We had a ton of response when the article first ran,” he said. “It was a big clusterf***, really.”

Lewis said the paper’s staff assumed the controversy would blow over, but two weeks later when DD Bixby and Dan Traylor, the Daily Barometer’s editor in chief and managing editor, respectively, met with representatives from the Muslim and Arab student groups they learned that a protest was planned for March 2.

The Barometer faced another round of criticism when the Corvallis Gazette-Times reported on the controversy and planned protest, (“Campus columnist provokes Muslims at OSU”) and noted that The Barometer staff had “resorted to vetting copy through a Muslim organization.”

Bixby said the Gazette-Times’ account exaggerated the degree of caution, and chose not to comment further on the situation.

“I think the most important thing to realize is that a lot of the information that came across the wire has been wrong,” she said.

The newspaper never resorted to “vetting,” but editors did send a questionable paragraph from another column to Aly Mohamed, president of the OSU Muslim Student Association, Lewis said. He added that the staffers opted to remove the potentially inflammatory sentences before Mohamed replied.

Mohamed declined to comment on the events at OSU.

When the Gazette-Times’ article was picked up by the Associated Press and run by other news organizations the newspaper staff also came under fire for questionable journalistic practices they never committed, Lewis said.

“We’re kind of fighting a battle on two fronts,” he said. “The Gazette-Times ran a correction, but no one ever runs those from the wire.”