Scott Tibbs
Published in Hoosier Review, 04-17-2002

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More troubling questions about the IDS Opinion Page

The April 16th Indiana Daily Student had a staff editorial advocating that the City of Bloomington require all apartment owners to offer recycling on the premises. The staff vote was 9 yes, 2 no, 0 abstentions.

In my last column for Hoosier Review, I detailed the conflict of interest regarding IDS Opinion Editor Travis Thickstun due to the fact that he is an intern for the City Council, and explained why it was in opposition to the ethical standards set forth by the Society of Professional Journalists. On April 5th, the IDS attempted to address the issue with a disclaimer that any member of the editorial board who has a conflict of interest abstains from votes on topics where the conflict may affect their judgment, using Thickstun as a specific example. However, there was no mention on whether or not Thickstun was present during the vote on this particular staff editorial that represented the official position of Monroe County's second largest newspaper. If he was, the IDS broke their stated policy that Thickstun abstains from all votes involving the city of Bloomington because of his employment with the city.

The 9-2-0 vote indicates that if Thickstun were present when the vote were taken, he did not recuse himself from it as the IDS promised he would. In fairness, perhaps he was not present when the vote was taken, and therefore did not have an opportunity to recuse himself, much less vote. But the April 16th IDS does not explain how Thickstun's conflict of interest was resolved with this editorial, or if it was resolved at all. What are IDS readers supposed to think, given that Thickstun's conflict was revealed in the Bloomington Herald-Times, Hoosier Review, and the IDS itself in the two weeks preceding the editorial in question? This is why the IDS should disclose Thickstun's position with city government each and every time they publish a staff editorial on city government.

Another wrinkle to the story casts a further shadow on the IDS. When I e-mailed the IDS Editor-In-Chief about submitting a Letter to the Editor on this controversy, I was told that they would "appreciate" me disclosing my "position with the Republican party since that is relevant information to include after (my) name." This after the IDS didn't think it relevant to include their Opinion Editor's position with city government in two staff editorials supporting city government policies. In other words, the IDS wanted to hold a reader to a higher standard than their own editors. Regardless, any "position" a reader has with a political party, be it Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, Communist, etc, is irrelevant to a serious ethical issue that connects the Monroe County's second largest newspaper to City Hall.

As has been explained before, this is not about silencing anyone's voice or ability to speak out on issues. Many politically active people have served as IDS columnists before, from former Student Coalition activist Philmore S. Hutchins, former College Democrats presidents Thickstun and Dan Wiseman, College Democrat activists Jon Greenberg and Andrew Straw and former OUT president Scott DeNardo to former College Republican presidents Sean Frick and Shawn Peterson, former College Republican Communications Director Eric Seymour and former IU Students for Life president Greg Chesmore. Many of these columnists have provided insightful and thought-provoking columns that were of much more value than occasional IDS fluff columns about things like whether men make better friends than women. The issue is that Thickstun should not have been selected as Opinion Editor while he held such a conflict.

The IDS is in a very uncomfortable position, and has yet to explain or justify allowing Thickstun to serve as an editor given the ethical issues his position brings. Both the university and non-university communities deserve more than the IDS is apparently willing to provide.