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‘Michigan Daily’: We fired columnist because he mocked our ‘experiences’

The Michigan Daily is at risk of getting a reputation as the most humorless college paper in America, largely because its editors keep talking.

When Daily columnist Omar Mahmood wrote a bitingly funny satire of trigger warnings, microaggressions and institutional bias against the “left-handyd” for the University of Michigan’s conservative paper, the Review, the Daily editors suddenly decided that Mahmood’s long-running columns in both papers constituted a “conflict of interest.”

According to Mahmood, a Daily editor told him he had created a “hostile environment” and an unidentified staffer had “felt threatened” by his Review column. The Daily suspended his column and told him to choose which paper he wanted to stay with, although remaining with the Daily would require Mahmood to write an apology, he said.

Now Mahmood’s conversations with The College Fix and other outlets have drawn a sharp rebuke from the Daily in the form of an editor’s note about the situation, intended to “combat the inaccuracies that have been perpetuated about our publication”:

The way in which the author satirically mocked the experiences of fellow Daily contributors and minority communities on campus in his Review column violated our values and integrity as a publication. His actions created a conflict of interest regarding his employment with both the Daily and the Review.

The editor’s note says Mahmood, whose apartment was vandalized in response to his Review column, “violated several of our bylaws,” though the note is so poorly worded it’s hard to tell what the paper’s grievances are: simply talking to outside outlets about Daily staff business? Writing a satirical column itself, or writing it for the Review specifically?

The revenge of the ‘special snowflakes’

Just two paragraphs after saying Mahmood “violated our values” by cleverly skewering the most sacred cows of the modern campus without getting personal, the editor’s note has the gall to claim it’s not discriminating against Mahmood’s “political beliefs”:

Our writers in the past and present have a variety of political perspectives — conservative, liberal, and points in between — and we expect that variety to continue. Consistent with this tradition, the Daily serves as a voice for all students, including those with all political perspectives, racial backgrounds, or sexual orientations, to name a few.

As the leading publication at the University of Michigan, the Daily strives to represent the diversity of viewpoints and narratives present on campus in meaningful, thoughtful ways. We vigorously support and affirm the right of students and faculty to debate and reflect on important issues of the day.

gaysnowflake.NoelHidalgo.flickr“Meaningful, thoughtful ways” apparently means carefully circumscribed “debates” with all the creativity of a C-SPAN panel discussion on tariffs.

It means the complete avoidance of what sex columnist Dan Savage has called the “blizzard of special snowflakes, each one primed to take offense at some real or imagined microaggression so they can dash to Tumblr for some macro-venting.”

Fantastically stretchy bylaws

But because Daily Editor in Chief Peter Shahin wrote a formal termination letter Dec. 4 to Mahmood, which the satirical student shared with The Fix, we can see exactly what the editors consider a bylaw violation: Writing for us!

Given that you have published a patently false piece about The Michigan Daily and your status within our publication on the conservative website The Fix, you have violated several articles within our bylaws that would merit your termination.

Shahin doesn’t lay out what was “patently false” about Mahmood’s comments, so let’s look at the cited bylaws.

One bylaw says Daily staffers “should not make internal politics a subject of discussion” and can’t even “express their opinions” about the Daily in a “public forum” – even a mass email – “without the express approval of the Editor in Chief or a two-thirds majority of Management Desk.”

Considering Mahmood’s conversations with The Fix last month were about getting suspended and told to apologize or resign, this allegation seems intended to muddle the timeline of events.

The next bylaw violation warms the cockles of our hearts:

In addition, your association with The Fix further damages your credibility as a columnist and a contributor, which violates the following bylaw: III.2. Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

This is a breathtakingly broad bylaw that could be used to punish any behavior or activity by a disfavored staffer. What if the Daily editors had briefly become flag-waving neoconservatives in the early 2000s and sought to get rid of an ACLU member on staff?

In the American criminal law system, this is known as the “vagueness doctrine” – a law must say “explicitly and definitely what conduct is punishable.” The Daily‘s application of this bylaw suggests it gets to define the offense after the fact, with no “fair notice” to a staffer of what’s considered a no-no.

Window dressing for a predetermined result

Mahmood’s alleged bylaw violations seem like after-the-fact justifications for what the Daily‘s editors realize is a weak accusation – that he “mocked the experiences” of people and groups he never named in his Review column, by putting his own “left-handydness” on par with other au courant identities.

The Daily could have preempted this kerfuffle, which has now made Mahmood the most famous alumnus of the paper in recent memory, by simply telling him at the start of the semester he had to stay monogamous with the Daily.

By waiting until Mahmood wrote something elsewhere that deeply wounded the special snowflakes on the Daily staff, the editors have shown the hollowness of their stated commitment to “debate.”

They’ve also validated comedian Chris Rock’s recent comments about why he stopped playing college campuses – those darn kids are too “conservative” for a joke.

Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)

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IMAGE: Noel Hidalgo/Flickr

About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” Previously he led media and public relations at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, a free-market think tank. Greg is developing a Web series about a college newspaper, COPY, whose pilot episode was a semifinalist in the TV category for the Scriptapalooza competition in 2012. He graduated in 2001 with a B.A. from Seattle Pacific University, where he co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon.

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