If you ever saw Blazing Saddles, you may remember the scene in which Sheriff Bart plans to stop Mongo from tearing up the town. As he puts on his holsters, The Waco Kid warns, “If you shoot him, you’ll just make him mad.”
That may explain the ruckus over the UNLV newspaper, the Rebel Yell. New Consolidated Students of the University of Nevada president Mark Ciavola argues that the student government has the right to have a say in who becomes editor because it helps fund the paper. The newspaper’s advisory board, whose 16 members include a representative from student government, says it has that right.
Historically, student governments don’t choose the editors of university and college newspapers, even if they help fund them. Whether they have the right to do so may be argued forever. Usually, they are smart enough not to do it because the student government that interferes, as has happened in the past at UNLV, winds up with a face flecked with egg and much public attack.
But no one ever accused Ciavola of avoiding controversy. He dedicated a great deal of time to annoying Dina Titus, then a political science professor, over her course schedule and salary. That was in his role as head of the UNLV College Republicans, which he began running after, among other jobs, working for Rep. Joe Heck, who defeated Titus in 2010 and may again be her opponent.
Which is one of the reasons Ciavola is being unwise to make this an issue. He is politically active, and not merely on campus. So it’s possible to argue that he wants to control what the Rebel Yell publishes. Whether or not he does is beside the point—as Ciavola should know from his political experience. In politics, perception outweighs fact.
The other reason is the Mongo principle, as stated by The Waco Kid. Former members of the Rebel Yell staff abound in the media here, as well as in various public relations and political posts. They are unlikely to take kindly to the idea of student government claiming the right to choose the paper’s editor. Could that redound to the detriment of
Ciavola and maybe even UNLV? That question is easily answered.
Still, there’s a history here. Student government and other entities have interfered with the paper’s operations before, including one memorable occasion when some students stole the print run of the publication before it could be distributed because that issue was going to report on some nefarious doings in student government. It's just that those involved don't know or remember it, whether it’s the journalists, the aspiring journalists, or Ciavola.
This may seem a bit high-toned, but Eric Sevareid, who used to do commentaries on the CBS Evening News when television networks covered news and commentaries were thoughtful analyses of the issues, said that “the central point about the free press is not that it be accurate, though it must try to be, not that it even be fair, though it must try to be that, but that it be free. And that means, in the first instance, freedom from any and all attempts by any power of government to coerce it or intimidate it in any way.”