Thomas Bowman resigned as editor-in-chief of the University of Mary Washington student newspaper, the Bullet, on April 14 after he was confronted about a comment on the Bullet website written under a false name.
At 3:49 p.m. on Thursday, April 11, a comment was posted on the Bullet web site supporting the Bullet’s coverage of two recent arrests of students who played for the UMW men’s basketball team. The commenter used the pseudonym “T. Kennedy.”
The story in question, reported online and on the front page of the April 11 edition of the Bullet, said that two players on the men’s basketball team were recently arrested, one charged with grand larceny, the other with shoplifting.
After a few comments were posted questioning the news value and the prominent placement of the story, the “T. Kennedy” response was posted.
The comment stated, in part, “…anytime anyone in the UMW community is charged with a serious crime–student, teacher or administer, the Bullet can publish a story. It’s public information and reporting it to the community serves the public interest. That is what newspapers do. Even though the Bullet is a student-run newspaper, it is still a real newspaper and is free to report stories of consequence. If you don’t want it written about, don’t do it in the first place.”
After reading the post, Teresa Kennedy, a UMW English professor, emailed an editor, asserting that readers might think she had posted it. Kennedy said she did not write the comment.
As the Bullet began looking into the identity of the person who actually posted the comment, Bowman, a senior political science major, was asked if he knew whom the poster using the pseudonym “T. Kennedy” was.
Bowman said he wrote the post himself. The editors planned to have an editorial board meeting to discuss Bowman’s future with the paper, but he resigned Sunday afternoon before the scheduled meeting. Editor-in-chief duties of the Bullet were immediately turned over to Associate Editor Bridget Balch.
“It is clearly inappropriate and unethical for a Bullet editor to mislead readers,” said Balch, a senior English and Spanish double major. “The incident is a serious breach of our readers’ trust. I apologize to our readers and Dr. Kennedy and assure the UMW community that we, at the Bullet, will do whatever is necessary to restore the paper’s credibility.”
Kennedy responded to the online comment.
“I would like to see the Bullet publicly apologize to me for using my well-known username to attempt to protect the Bullet from criticism. It is unethical; it is not anonymous,” said Kennedy. “…[I]t is damaging to my relationship with my students. It is very unfortunate.”
Bowman, who has had various editor roles at the Bullet for the past four years, officially announced his resignation to the Bullet staff on Sunday evening.
“I chose to resign rather than tear the editors and the Bullet apart in a meaningless debate just for one of us to prove a point. Such action would have resulted in a Pyrrhic victory. I maintain my position that everyone, even editors of the Bullet should have a universal right to free speech and the universal right to protect their identity,” said Bowman.