Of streaking and the First Amendment

By Maria Torres

Journalists everywhere pull out all stops when a colleague’s freedom of the press is infringed. The case with Paul Isom has been no different. 

As media advisor of the East Carolionian (the student paper at East Carolina University), Isom allowed the editors to publish graphic photos alongside the report of a streaking incident that occurred during halftime at the East Carolina University vs. University of Southern Mississippi football game in early November. School administration officials were quick to act against the editorial decision, going so far as to fire Isom while also supposedly teaching staff the lesson that “with freedom of the press comes a certain level of responsibility.”

Many people have spoken out about the firing. Even the National Press Photographers Association is asking school administrators to reinstate Isom. 

While administration is busy spinning their reasons for firing Isom as something personnel-related, Isom isn’t fooled. He has received documents from the university that chronicle his employment and it seems to him that a majority of the documents he receives are related to the streaker incident.

For this reason, Isom has decided to appeal his termination. He, along with all of his supporters, is convinced his firing was unjust and that it crossed into First Amendment violation territory. 

Clearly, the freedom of the press has been limited in this case. But was it wrong for the university to reprimand the paper for publishing graphic photos? Or should the students — and, of course, Isom — have been a little more discretionary? 

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4 Comments on “Of streaking and the First Amendment”

  1. bsharp18 says:

    I don’t think it was wrong at all for the university to reprimand the paper for publishing these types of photos. Yes, it was a violation of 1st Amendment Rights, but it was also a violation of the ethical standards of journalists. Readers of the AJC or New York Times would be appalled if they saw graphic photos of a streaking incident. So on the level of a college newspaper or not, pictures such as these are still unacceptable. On the other hand, reprimanding should have occurred but I personally do not think it should have gone as far as firing the Pual Isom for his editing decision, but rather gave a warning or set in stone more efficient standards. Isom should have known better, as well as students that have experience writing for a newspaper at a collegiate level, but the punishment was a little too drastic on the administrative level.

  2. kes91 says:

    I agree with bsharp here. Personally, I don’t care if someone chooses to run through the streets naked, nor do I care if I see a picture of it. But when has it ever been alright to post graphic photos of a streaker in a newspaper? I suppose if Isom truly wanted to take it so far as to claim that this was an infringement on his First Amendment rights, so be it. However, it was an idiotic decision on his part to allow editors to publish it and not expect drastic reprocussions. How necessary was it to display to readers just how naked the streaker was? Does the term “streaker” not sum it up? What Isom approved was in bad taste. There has to be a definitive line between something being interesting and vital to the story and something that is crude and holds no merit other than shock value.

  3. cailinob says:

    While I never endorse the limiting of the rights of the first amendment, I tend to agree that the school had a responsibility to teach a lesson with this one. Sure; it was ultimately the paper’s decision what ran and what did not. Still, however, this paper is associated with a school — meaning, essentially, that it is a paper “in training.” Publishing naked pictures of the streaker alongside the story violates ethical journalistic practices simply because the pictures were unnecessary (I agree with Kes91 and bsharp18). There is absolutely no reason to publish naked pictures of the streaker. Everybody knows that a streaker is naked: the story speaks for itself. It was irresponsible journalism. The school, therefore, had a right — and I would go so far as to say an obligation — to teach the paper that this is unacceptable. In the “real world” a paper displaying this kind of action would have undergone vicious criticism and lost a good deal of credibility.

  4. dbristow1 says:

    This is a straight forward 1st Amendment issue. The paper exercised this right as it does everyday, and an advisor was fired for it. “Freedom of the press” is very clear. But, somehow, people try to find ways around it when they are offended by a specific incident. The school was wrong in firing Isom and violated his constitutional right in doing so.


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