Robert “Alex” Green, who stood up to a misguided college administration in order that Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., would not become “another Penn State,” has just been informed he will be awarded the prestigious Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism next month at the University of Oregon. Green, the editor of the school’s newspaper, was expressly forbidden from publishing a story that a former professor is an alleged pedophile, according to a story in USA Today.
Bryan College President Stephen Livesay censored the story last fall after the young editor learned a former Old Testament professor – David Morgan -- had been arrested by the FBI in a child prostitution sting in Fort Oglethorpe. That’s when Green, a native of Dayton, rather bravely took it upon himself to make 300 copies of the story and circulate them on campus.
It was Green’s belief that “Printing this story will not cause a Penn State situation for Bryan … I believe it will prevent one.” The fifth-year senior also wrote that Bryan College wouldn’t reflect Penn State “because there are people here that will not attempt to save face by dusting over the arrest of Dr. David Morgan.”
At first Livesay’s reaction was that he and other administrators felt the story was “inappropriate” but then school spokesman Tom Davis created a larger mess when he told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the administration is “looking at this as, we are an institution that says it’s a Christian institution and we are trying to live that out, to not spread information we can’t confirm.”
The problem was that the newspaper editor discovered the truth on his own before he published it. On June 24, 2012, David Morgan was arrested by FBI officials in the parking lot of the Race Trac store on Battlefield Parkway. In October of 2012 the same David Morgan was arrested by Catoosa County officers on two counts of computer pornography, two counts of criminal intent to commit aggravated criminal child molestation and two more counts of child molestation.
Bryan spokesman Davis said via e-mail, “We believed we were doing the right thing to protect the privacy of a man charged, but not convicted, of a crime.”
Green took a different view. “We felt it was our obligation to get the story out – as journalists and Christians." Green said that part of God’s message is admitting it when things go wrong. “We are a Christian school. This is what we talk about. People do mess up. That doesn’t mean there is no hope.”
The brave student was not expelled nor disciplined by the university but a firestorm of criticism was leveled at the Bryan leader from around the nation, calling for a hurried apology. “If we have upset or offended anyone relating to this situation, we apologize. It was not our intent," Livesay’s statement read last September, “Our intent was to look at the situation as Christians and do what was right. As humans, we are fallible."
Bryan College – after the story was banned and then became public – was castigated by the national press but the newspaper editor wasn’t among the detractors. “At Penn State they say, ‘We Are Penn State.’ At Bryan we say ‘We are Christ-centered.’
“Had one individual in the Penn State program stepped up and revealed the truth about the actions of Jerry Sandusky, there would have been no fallout 14 years later,” Green wrote. “Joe Paterno could have died a hero. Instead, he died a goat. Penn State could have been praised. Instead, they are broken.”
Gail MacDonald, a journalism professor at UConn, praised the need for freedom of the press. “I’m not questioning the legal authority of the Bryan College administration to do what it did, but rather their moral authority to do it. As somebody who believes deeply in press freedom even on the student level, I applaud the student for trying to get the message out,” said MacDonald.
“If they’re teaching journalism and providing students with credit and coming in with such a heavy-handed approach, such a clear act of censorship, I don’t think that’s what journalism is about in this country. It goes against all American journalism ethics,” she added.
* * *
A VIDEO EXTRA: This video has absolutely nothing to do with today’s column but all of those who know me are aware of my fondness for dogs. A friend just sent me what he called “the best dog advertisement ever!” As you watch this, you’ll agree he might be right.