is an abridgment of the spirit of academic freedom and those principles of free communication protected by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights." It was a bombshell.
The Lincoln Journal fired back immediately with a classic daily front-page story seeking to "scotch" the nasty rumors started by that pesky Rag on the campus. The story had all the usual recognizable elements: it did not independently investigate, did not quote our story properly, did not call us for comment, took the handout denial from the university public relations office, and put it out without blushing. Bang, that was to be the end of it, on to the next press release from the university.
It made me mad. I knew our story was right, the daily story was wrong, and the story was important and needed to be pursued. And so I stoked up a campaign for the rest of the semester that ultimately emboldened Mitchell to make formal charges that the university had violated his academic freedom. He gave us the scoop for two rousing final editions of the Rag. The proper academic committee investigated and upheld Mitchell but dragged the case out and waited until I graduated to release the report.
Against the power structure and against all odds, Mitchell, the Rag, and I had won the day and an important victory on behalf of academic freedom in a conservative university in a conservative state during the McCarthy era. During this battle I learned how the power structure fights back against aggressive editors. At the height of my campaign defending Mitchell, I was kept out of the Innocents Society, the senior men's honorary society, although my four subeditors and managers all made it in. The blackball, the campus rumor went, came directly from the regents president, J. Leroy Welch, then president of the Omaha Grain Exchange (known to our readers as the "Old Grain Head"), via the chancellor via the dean of men.
I am forever indebted to them. They taught me at an impressionable age about the power of the alternative press and why it is best exercised by an independent paper on major power structure issues. They also taught me a lot about press freedom, which they were trying to grab from the Rag and me, and how we had to fight back publicly and with gusto.
When Jean and I founded the Guardian, we did so in the spirit of my old Rag campaigns. In fact, we borrowed the line from the old Chicago Times and put it on our masthead: "It is a newspaper's duty to print the news and raise hell." We wanted a paper that would be willing and able to do serious watchdog reporting and take on and pursue the big stories and issues that the monopoly dailies ignored — and then were ignored by the radio, television, and mainstream media that take their news and policy cues from the Ex and Chron. In JOA San Francisco that was a lot of stories, from the PG&E Raker Act scandal to the Manhattanization of the city to the theft of the Presidio to the steady conservative downtown drumbeat on such key issues as taxes, social justice, the homeless, privatization, war and peace, and endorsements.
Significantly, because of our independent position and credibility, we were able to lead tough campaigns on public power, kicking PG&E out of a corrupted City Hall and putting a blast of sunlight on local government with the nation’s first and best Sunshine Ordinance and Sunshine Task Force.
Our first big target in our prototype issue was the Ex-Chron JOA agreement, which we portrayed in an editorial cartoon as two gigantic ostrich heads coming out of a single ostrich body, marked in the belly with a huge dollar sign. Our editorial laid out the argument that we have used ever since in covering the local monopoly and in positioning the Guardian as the independent alternative. "What the public now has in San Francisco, as it does in all 55 or so of 1,461 cities with dailies, is a privately owned utility that is constitutionally exempt from public regulation, which would violate freedom of the press.