Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Rocky Mountain Sigh

By Shawn Healy
Odds are you've probably already heard the story of Colorado State student editor David McSwane, who responded to the recent tasering incident at the University of Florida with a simple, dim-witted editorial on September 21st that read "Taser this: F**k Bush." For his dereliction of duty, not to mention his exercise of freedom of speech, McSwane faces dismissal from his position. A smarter course would probably be suspension without pay, but given the fragile state of student press rights, the Board of Student Communications made a decision consistent with the prevailing winds.

McSwane, in his effort to prove a point, placed the financial status of his newspaper in jeopardy, as 18 advertisers have already pulled the plug, with a sum of $50,000 in revenue at stake. It should come as little solace then that a company already printing t-shirts with his now infamous slogan purchased $300 worth of space in The Collegian.

The Board of Student Communications, composed of six students and three faculty members, erred by masking the realities of professional journalism that McSwane and his peers were bound to learn along the way. Why not force McSwane to come to his own conclusion that free speech is not absolute, and even if his message was constitutionally protected, its exercise carries serious real world consequences?

I'm not apprised of McSwane's talents as a writer, but his judgment as an editor obviously demands refinement, and this will not occur if he is out of a job. My guess is that if left to his own auspices, he would have written a retraction, begged for current advertisers to stay on board, and in the process learned a valuable lesson in a training ground for professional journalism.

On another level, how sad is it that we live in such a polarized environment that freedom of speech has become a partisan issue. Shame on the College Republicans for leading the charge for McSwane's ouster. I fondly recall penning my own op-ed pieces critical of President Clinton during my college days, and expect that they were received warmly by the Republican contingent at the University of Wisconsin. While I substituted substantive arguments for petty one-liners and four-letter words, the exercise of political speech should be afforded the highest levels of First Amendment protection, both on college campuses and at major dailies. The five freedoms transcend our ever divided two-party system.

Here's hoping that McSwane fights his dismissal with legal representation, and if vindicated, learns a valuable lesson. Tasering the student editor for his boneheaded exercise of free speech was as inappropriate at CSU as it was in Gainesville. It is nothing less than cruel and unusual.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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