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College Editors: Sorry, but No Retraction : Journalism: Saddleback College Lariat stands by the commentary critics charged was anti-Semitic. The chancellor says an 'editor's note' of regret won't undo the harm and hints at cuts in paper's funding.

December 14, 1989|JAMES M. GOMEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MISSION VIEJO — Editors of Saddleback College's student-run newspaper, under fire for publishing an opinion piece that attacks Israel, vowed Wednesday not to bow to pressure for a retraction from administrators and local Jewish leaders who said the article was anti-Semitic.

Staff members of the Lariat, however, have agreed, to print a two-paragraph "editor's note" in today's edition of the weekly that expresses "regret (over) any emotional distress (the) commentary and illustration have caused."

Lariat Opinion Editor Lee McCormack said that aside from the editor's note, the staff was standing behind the piece on First Amendment grounds.

"We are not apologizing for anything," McCormack said. "We are just regretting the fact that we seemed to offend a lot of people. But I guess people can interpret (the editor's note) as an apology."

Students, Jewish residents and top administrators, including the college president, have condemned the article and political cartoon by journalism student Michael S. Boren, charging that the piece was anti-Semitic and lacked understanding of Jewish history and culture.

"I think this piece showed extremely poor taste, and we were extremely offended by it," said Elizabeth Gale, Orange County director of the Anti-Defamation League. "It's disturbing to see a student publish something that is full of inaccuracy."

Richard J. Sneed, chancellor of the Saddleback Community College District, said that the editor's note does not go far enough and has hinted that district administrators may consider some changes in the school's highly regarded journalism program.

Sneed did not rule out the possibility that the award-winning newspaper could lose its funding in the future.

"We will have to consider our support of the program," Sneed said, after he learned that the Lariat staff decided not to recant Boren's opinion piece.

"People are telling me that this is not something the public should fund," he added.

Since the article and cartoon were published in the newspaper's Dec. 7 edition, administrators of the 23,000-student college said they have received more than 100 calls from people who complained that the opinion piece was anti-Semitic.

The strongly worded article, under the headline, "Israel Enters Nuclear Arms Race," was harshly critical of Israel for stockpiling nuclear warheads.

It also charged that Israel is a "fanatical government" that "will resort to any means to protect their religious claim on (Palestine)."

The piece ended by stating that if Israelis "are indeed God's chosen people . . . it would seem that God might have made a better choice."

The article was accompanied by a political cartoon by Boren that depicted a Hanukkah menorah tipped with singing nuclear warheads instead of candles. The smiling warheads, which are engraved with Stars of David, are singing: "We Wish You a Happy Holocaust."

Boren, in an interview from the Lariat newsroom on Wednesday, said that he was not prepared for the immense outcry over his work. The 26-year-old student is both a staff writer and the political cartoonist for the newspaper and has received numerous awards for his illustrations, which he said are often controversial.

"But not like this," he said.

While Boren said he is "sorry if I offended anyone," he also said he stands by his article and cartoon, which he described as an anti-nuclear piece.

"I am not sorry I did the cartoon," Boren said.

Other student editors and the faculty adviser, Carol Ziehm, said they decided to publish the editor's note after meeting with college President Constance M. Carroll earlier in the week.

Carroll has joined other administrators in calling for a retraction and apology by Boren and the newspaper staff.

While critics of the piece were flooding administrators' offices with phone calls, Lariat staff members said they have received numerous calls of support.

Some of the callers, they said, were members of other college newspapers, who were urging that Lariat students maintain their defense that Boren was exercising his freedom of speech.

McCormack said the editor's note, which also provided a clarification of Boren's intent, was sufficient.

The note states:

"Boren's intent was not anti-Semitic nor to offend any religious sect or to diminish the significance of the Holocaust, but to express his concern with Israel's possession of nuclear arms and the volatility of the Middle East situation.

"The Lariat supports Boren's First Amendment right to express his opinion; however, we regret any emotional distress his commentary and illustration have caused."

"I think that's all we can do because of freedom of the press," said faculty adviser Ziehm.

But in her letter to the editor, President Carroll wrote: " . . . with First Amendment rights goes responsibility. I encourage the Lariat to continue its exploration of controversial topics but with an eye to the historical significance of phraseology, respect for humanitarian values and sensitivity to the religious beliefs of others."

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