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The Blue & Gray Press | February 22, 2018

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Bullet editor-in-chief resigns

By BULLET STAFFthomasonlinepic

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.

Comments

  1. Ice Ice Baby

    Wait, he had to resign from Editor-in-Chief because he left a comment on a story with a fake name? OH GOD, NOT SOMEONE USING A FAKE NAME ON THE INTERNET.

    That’s ridiculous. Seriously, get over yourselves.

  2. Emily

    Wow!!!!! Why does he all of a sudden resign??? The semester is practically over why resign now editor-in-chief. Get over yourself and stop using fake names on the internet and stop destroying peoples reputations at the school. Some school community we show at UMW by humilating other fellow students. Not to mention what these two athletes have done for the school to promote “diversity” and “school spirit”. Im sure that wont be in the paper now will it. Im disgusted about this . Get over yourselves Bullet!!!!!!

  3. Alison K

    Ice Ice Baby (if that is your real name :), it’s not that he used a fake name, but that he tried to mislead people in to thinking he was a person who actually exists. No one’s reputation will be harmed by your pseudonym, but since Professor Kennedy is a distinguished professor in the community that the Bullet circulates in, it could be very damaging to her professional reputation and her relationship with her students, as mentioned by Professor Kennedy in the article.

  4. philgreen

    Nice try, Thomas.

  5. dbrowne

    Bowman claims the Bullet means a lot to him, but his actions speak otherwise. The Bullet’s actions this year reflect horribly on our school. It’s as if the Bullet staff doesn’t realize that the newspaper even COULD be an object of pride for our community, and throws it all down the drain.

    This false comment by Bowman under a professor’s name is really just the tip of the iceberg.
    Why does the Bullet need to pretend to be a teacher to defend its actions? Would Bowman’s comment have been any less effective (or stupid) if he had used his own name?

    Why does the Bullet need a anonymous twitter account (@thebullshitumw) disguised as parody to defend itself? The Bullshit twitter account was first used for jokes, but its true purpose became obvious as soon as The Bullet came under criticism – this account is always the first to respond with sarcastic, cowardly, and immature comebacks. Whoever runs the account – be it Bowman, the whole Bullet staff, or otherwise – is clearly another avenue for the Bullet to defend poor articles that should never have been written in the first place.

    Why does the Bullet need to protect its agenda so strongly in the first place? When placed under scrutiny for articles about arrested students or professors with DUIs, the first line of defense is always that “it’s publically available information”. No one disputes this, and that fact that it’s public information isn’t the point.

    The student body has made clear how it feels about articles regarding student or faculty arrests, but the Bullet’s only response to this has been to ignore the issue as an institution and use cowardly anonymous means to defend itself. No apology, no redaction, no acknowledgment, nothing.

    The Bullet has dug itself a huge hole this year. I do not respect the newspaper or its editors. They will have to work hard to earn that respect back. I wish that our school newspaper was something that I could take pride in, but sadly, it is not.

  6. Definitely wasn’t Thomas Bowman.

  7. Why don’t you get involved and try to change that then?

    Be warned: the hours are long, the pay is nonexistent, nobody reads it, everybody trashes it, and the only time anybody cares is when you’ve done something wrong.

  8. dbrowne

    Look, If I really cared about the The Bullet’s otherwise inconsequential journalism, I would get involved. I am not a journalism student, nor a writer, and I’m not claiming that the fine people who who put their heart and soul into their journalism, doing their best for the paper and their school, aren’t worthy of praise. I could not do any better than them.

    But the people responsible for shit like this and associated article are not those people. It really isn’t hard to NOT impersonate a professor to drive home a point; it really isn’t hard to NOT publish articles that unfairly attack individuals after there has been already been much outcry over that sort of thing. Those actions help nobody, and hurt many, and could have been avoided by simply choosing NOT to do these things.

    It’s a hard job to be editor, sure, but people aren’t upset because our paper is SUB-PAR. They’re upset because the school newspaper MATTERS, and when it is abused, people get hurt.

    Also, clearly plenty of people read The Bullet, or at least read the front page.

  9. tkennedy

    It’s a very hard job to be an editor at any newspaper, and student journalists are especially sensitive about critique. This is understandable; you need a thick skin to be a good journalist, and report the facts, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. This is the job of a good reporter. A good editor makes sure that appropriate context is contained in the article; that the article is ethical; e.g. free from conflicts of interest, free from personal vendetta. free from bias, in other words. There is such a high standard required for excellence, that it is very difficult to maintain integrity. It is hard to separate the personal from the political, gossip from newsworthyness. I am very sorry that this conversation has reached such a pitch. But, we all need to recognize that these are challenging moments from which we can all learn. Personal motives need to be shared with other editors; roommate situations need to be revealed; personal animus eliminated. For the record, the Bullet is usually excellent in this area, because of the leadership of the advisor and the editorial staff. I was shocked that the ‘false poster’ was an editor; I was disappointed about the ethical breach because it was so unprecedented. We should support the goals of the Bullet, and we should continue to call them out when they make mistakes, but still maintain our values with all groups, including in this instance our less experienced journalists and the interests of the student body.

  10. stuartbollingsmith

    I remember when I tweeted about a factual typo in the Bullet concerning what subject a certain teacher taught. Thomas saw my tweet and took FULL RESPONSIBILITY for the mistake. He believed that he should have caught the flaw as the editor-in-chief. Even though I thought it was a grievous mistake on the reporter, Thomas saw it as his responsibility to maintain the accuracy of the Bullet.

    I feel that so much of the backlash generated by that article is due to students having unrealistic perceptions of what the Bullet needs to do. The Bullet’s job is to prepare young journalists for the real world. By limiting what they can report or attacking the Bullet for reporting what they feel “sells”, is doing the Bullet Staff a great disservice. I LOVE UMW Basketball, but I also was raised in a country where I automatically know everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It does not need to be CLEARLY STATED for me since it is an American value. It is a given! Also, the Bullet always has the ability to release an article stating their innocence after the case goes to trial since it would be public record with the local courts.

    I just hope that this fiasco shows future employers that Thomas is a stand up guy and has become the sacrificial lamb for the Bullet staff.

  11. philgreen

    Are you Theresa Kennedy or just someone else using her name?

  12. philgreen

    The sacrificial lamb? Did they make him pretend to be Kennedy?

  13. stuartbollingsmith

    I do not think he intentionally pretended to be anyone. I don’t get offended when I see S. Smith posting and I most certainly don’t jump to conclusions concerning identity theft. However, my last name is very common, but we also live in a country where a Ted Kennedy is a prominent figure. It is not uncommon for people to have an online alias these days.

    Honestly, I think UMW needs to reform its rules for the Bullet staff to work in the Digital Age.

  14. philgreen

    Clearly he was afraid to voice his opinion supporting himself, as himself.

    I think Dbrowne said it well “Why does the Bullet need to pretend to be a teacher [and I’m pretty sure that was to goal in using the name TKennedy] to defend its actions? Would Bowman’s comment have been any less effective (or stupid) if he had used his own name?”

  15. tkennedy

    No, It is me Teresa Kennedy.

  16. Should he have commented as his own name? Yeah, absolutely, given that the comment wasn’t at all offensive or inappropriate (even though people are acting like it was).

    Should they have printed the pictures of the two basketball players? Personally, I don’t think so, but I also don’t see anything wrong with reporting their arrest. The responsibility of a student newspaper to protect students extends exactly as far as its responsibility to protect anyone: when it makes sense. If they got arrested, that’s news. If those LAX guys got arrested, that’s news too. (It’d be nice if someone could provide some proof though instead of just throwing it out there in anonymous comments on the Internet.)

    So did they screw up? Yeah, I’d say they did. But so does everyone, and holding their feet to the fire and calling for resignations every time somebody screws up helps no one. You need experience to do well at this, and having mistakes that you can look back on is key. But if you’ve forced people to resign, nobody ever gets any kind of experience and you’ll get inexperienced people taking their place, making all the same mistakes.

    You can’t recognize the challenges of the job of an editor and then, in the same paragraph, completely trivialize the job of an editor.

    Besides, he wasn’t even pretending to be Teresa Kennedy. That’s the funniest part to me, and of course, the part that goes totally unreported in this story. A lot goes unreported in this story, actually, and that’s pretty concerning to me as a former editor, especially since the people with the power to report those facts HAVE THOSE FACTS and are not making them public.

    This whole thing seems like a huge, melodramatic overreaction. I could see a resignation being necessary if he pretended to be Kennedy (or looked like he was) and posted hateful speech, but it was a respectful comment that, as you said, made more sense coming from “Thomas Bowman.” I don’t know why they didn’t just delete the comment, have him apologize to Kennedy, (both of which happened), then ride out his whopping five final days as Editor-in-Chief in peace.

  17. “Also, clearly plenty of people read The Bullet, or at least read the front page.”

    Also, clearly the reaction here proves my point that nobody cares until they screw up.

  18. YEAH! HE MADE A TOTALLY INOFFENSIVE AND APPROPRIATE COMMENT UNDER A PSEUDONYM THAT LOOKS LIKE SOMEBODY ELSE’S NAME! KICK HIS ASS!

  19. dbrowne

    How can you say that he wasn’t pretending to be Teresa Kennedy? That’s naive. It’s not just a random convenient pseudonym. “Tkennedy” is clearly a reference to a specific person, who was treated by the Bullet in a similar fashion as these basketball players not too long ago. Using somebody else’s name isn’t a pseudonym, it’s impersonation.

    The challenges of being an editor are significant, and I don’t mean to trivialize them. No one is mad at Bowman for being a bad editor, there’s no reason to believe that he is, current scandal aside. They’re mad because the editor of the paper did something stupid and misleading, completely outside the realm of responsibility for such a position.

    Additionally, I would argue that no experience is really necessary to have the judgment to not pretend to be a respected individual on the internet. I would hope that having the judgment to not print defamatory articles would also be obvious – there’s a difference between reporting an arrest, which the Bullet does routinely, and publishing a front page story with names, pictures, and sensational details. It’s not like these are typos, or boring articles, or “rookie mistakes”.

    Of course, Bowman probably doesn’t deserve a front page article defaming him either. He’s a person deserving of respect just like everybody else. It is overblown. It was five days until the end of the term. The Bullet could have had the judgment to not publish this article either, but they did. I don’t really know what to say about that.

  20. dbrowne

    We have a right to care if they screw up! We are the Bullet’s intended audience, we are the student body of UMW who are represented by this paper. We should care if they screw up! It reflects poorly on everyone.

  21. MP

    Wrong. It reflects poorly on the Bullet staff. If you wanted it to reflect poorly on the school and the entirety of its students, then that would mean all of the students helped make the Bullet, helped write the articles, helped editing them, and stood behind the staff members both in the calm times and after they’ve admitted to their mistakes.

    Figured I had to say something for the first time in a couple of years because of how ludicrous some of the reactions are.

  22. MP

    Wrong. It reflects poorly on the Bullet staff. If you wanted it to reflect poorly on the school and the entirety of its students, then that would mean all of the students helped make the Bullet, helped write the articles, helped editing them, and stood behind the staff members both in the calm times and after they’ve admitted to their mistakes.

    Figured I had to say something for the first time in a couple of years because of how ludicrous some of the reactions are.

  23. MP

    Those days you don’t know how to work a WordPress site when writing a response…. they’re the worst.

  24. dbrowne

    That’s absurd. The Bullet is representative of this University, whether the staff realizes it or not.

  25. MP

    No, they only represent the views the writers have. This is a student newspaper that is run by a professor and relatively amateur writers who are learning exactly what it takes to perhaps follow this profession. The paper itself may represent a part of the university, but the things written inside of it are as changing and unique as the people that go into the offices to work on their article.

    This was one take on the story, and I’m sure that once this week’s issue is printed, there will be a letter to the editor explaining another way that it happened. This community is so varied that there will be not one article that pleases everybody. Maybe at its core, this newspaper represents the university, but the stories that spring from it are representative of how unique and different the student body is from one another.

  26. I’ll just quote the email Thomas sent out to all the Bullet editors (since the Bullet article won’t for whatever reason):

    “Earlier today, Bridget deleted a comment that I had posted on the arrested basketball players’ story as T. Kennedy, after Dr. Teresa Kennedy alleged that the comment misused her name to give the impression that she posted the comment.

    The one-off comment was a defense of the story and did not have anything to do with Dr. Kennedy.

    Thomas Kennedy is a pseudonym I’ve had going back to high school, when I used to dress in suits occasionally for various high school events. It was with this in mind that I posted my comment as T. Kennedy on the article, T, standing for ‘Thomas.’ The comment also did not link to her email address.

    In no way did I intend for it to be an impersonation of Dr. Kennedy, but I empathize with her frustration.”

    That’s why I would say that he wasn’t trying to impersonate her. Kennedy is a pretty common name, and knowing Thomas for as long as I have, I’d say it’s way more likely for him to be using the historical variant of that last name rather than masquerading as a teacher I’m pretty sure he’s never even had.

    And I’d say experience is absolutely necessary for something like this. When the drug bust happened where like 12 students were arrested for sending POUNDS of marijuana through the United States Postal Service, we sat in a room as an editorial staff and argued over whether to post the mugshots for what felt like hours before finally voting to post them. Then people saw it, got super pissed, assumed we did it flippantly and said we were violating students’ rights and how dare we, etc. etc.

    The big thing we discussed was whether or not that crime was worthy of outing those students. A lot of us felt like only violent crimes deserved pictures. Personally, I felt like that was a pretty serious crime and that we should post the mugshots. It was a long, arduous talk.

    The reason I said I don’t think they should have posted the basketball players’ images is solely based on that discussion, that *experience.* These weren’t serious crimes, so I don’t think they needed to post faces, but definitely report the story as-is. It’s not their job to protect students; it’s their job to report facts, which they did. Maintaining that balance is not always as easy as “well, just don’t post that.”

    Regardless, now the editors who stay on-board have that experience to recall later, but word on the street is that morale for upcoming writers is pretty low given that THIS is how UMW students react to mistakes. There’s a right way and a wrong way to call out The Bullet on mistakes, and this is the wrong way. Be supportive so you can foster talent on the paper and get better writers and more experienced editors, not drive people away.

  27. MP

    Don’t worry, Mr. Ella. I plan on using my words next year to write and help the Bullet staff, as well as end the bullshit that they receive by helping them write responses (Like I hope Mr. Bowman will do in this week’s edition).

  28. You do, but that wasn’t my point. The point was that the only articles that get discussed are the ones where they screwed up. Nobody comments on good articles, so honestly, sometimes it’s hard to motivate yourself to try.

    When I was on The Bullet, the reputation was, “Nobody reads The Bullet.” Well, if nobody reads it, why bother writing something awesome?

    I wrote six award-winning articles for The Bullet while I was on it (#humblebrag) and the only one that got comments was the one where people told me I was an asshole for thinking Avatar was a shitty movie.

  29. dbrowne

    Thanks for that insight, from Bowman and from your past experience.

    The pseudonym is rather hard coincidence to accept, and I’m sure you understand that. I suppose it’s impossible to really know what Bowman’s intentions were.

    It is a difficult situation. Can you offer any insight, if the situation of whether or not to publish a crime is not unprecendented, why it happened again? Surely there are plently of people on the editorial staff who were here for the drug bust. I would have thought that the reaction from all previous incidents would be enough to dissuade something similar from occuring again, especially when these crimes were much less severe, sensationalized (by reporting two completely unrelated crimes together in the same article), and seemingly randomly picked out of many student arrests that occur every semester. It seems that they say “well, just don’t post that” to many many other crimes every year, except this one, in which one student was drunk and shoplifted and the other stole something. Hardly a threat to public safety.

    What is the right way to call the Bullet out? We are posting comments on the internet. I suppose one could write a letter to the editor.

    Also, please tell me how to get involved with Bullet. Tell me how I can get involved to help prevent this sort of thing from happening.

  30. dbrowne

    I agree, it is shitty. But I think that is a separate issue from people being upset because their peers are unfairly singled out and attacked on the front page. Just because we aren’t involved with the paper doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be upset by unfair journalism. I think people have a tendency to write the Bullet beacuse it has a history of similar incidents, and they keep happening.

  31. NICE. We definitely did need to take advantage of the online format more to just respond to this kind of stuff and explain rationale. I’d love to hear a thought-out response to the criticism explaining why they handled the basketball story the way they did.

  32. Well, as far as I know, the only person left on staff who was there during that drug bust mugshot discussion is Thomas Bowman, and obviously, he’s not there anymore. That’s the problem with a student newspaper. The staff changes so often that they’re doomed to make some of the mistakes, which is why you need people like Thomas on staff because that dude had like 3 and a half years of experience, which is pretty unprecedented, and now it’s all gone RIGHT before they train next year’s staff.

    The rationale I’ve heard for why they were reported in the same story is because they both involved basketball players, which they should have communicated better. And yeah, I’d agree, this wasn’t a threat to public safety, so I wish they wouldn’t have posted the pictures, but hey, I bet next year’s Editor-in-Chief Alison Thoet (HEY HEY ALISON HEY HEY HI <3) will have learned from this. And luckily, she's still pretty young, so she'll probably end up being the longest-running EIC in history if she stays on til she graduates. That's incredible.

    The right way is simply to recognize that these decisions usually aren't made lightly, are usually made by inexperienced writers who probably honestly didn't think it would be a problem, and respectfully outline what they did wrong and how they can correct it. Petitions and threats (yes, actual threats of violence have happened) and flippant remarks about how awful The Bullet is are easy to make, but hard to learn from. Letters to the Editor are great, yep. It means readers are engaged in an active discussion with the paper and other readers, and willing to get involved.

    I'd go with the Contact The Editors page and contact Alison. You seem probably like a Viewpoints and Style kind of guy. They could use more smart editorials about current events and people who know their shit about music, which I'm pretty sure I remember people telling me you (unless you're not Dan Browne). That was always a challenge when I was Entertainment Editor.

  33. Whispers on the wind say that Thomas won’t have a Letter to the Editor because “there won’t be room” for it. WOMP WOMP.

  34. dbrowne

    Tom, apparently we’ve gone too deep in the comment thread because WordPress won’t let me reply directly to your response. Sorry about that.

    I am Dan Browne. I think I will contact Alison.

    Thanks for the cogent discussion. I think we both mostly agree. There is legitimate criticism about the Bullet and the way it handles student arrests, and much of this criticism has been ineffective because of how it is expressed. Something should change, and apologies should be made. Whether or not the Bullet responds to all of this criticism remains to be seen.

    In conclusion, do you even go here?

  35. WE BROKE THE WEBSITE. That THAT, WordPress. Nice.

    Yeah, I’m glad we kept it more civil than that *other* article where the discussion is decidedly less so. I think you’re right to criticize them for this (I totally agree that it was mishandled) and they should respond. Hopefully they will. It’ll be interesting to see how next year’s staff handles stuff like this.

    In conclusion, touche, haha. That’s easily the only and best way this could’ve ended.