The prospect of facing the real world of jobs and careers with poor scholastic records may eventually help restrain the heady rebellion of student editors who have published right-wing articles deriding the Holocaust "myth," according to Harbor College's new journalism instructor.
But, Mike Cornner said, only a careful rebuilding of the college's faltering journalism program over perhaps a period of years will restore its workshop newspaper, the Hawk, to a position of "respect and credibility."
In the meantime, he said, "the newspaper is running amok . . . nothing I can do is going to change that overnight. I have ideas on how the paper can be improved, and I will be talking a lot about professional standards and journalistic responsibility.
"But it's not my newspaper. It belongs to the students, who are free to accept or reject my ideas. I am not interested in violating the First Amendment."
Last month, after a storm of protests from Jewish organizations, trustees of the Los Angeles Community College District censured the Hawk for publishing a series of opinion articles claiming that stories of the Holocaust are exaggerated to win sympathy and support for "Zionist" causes.
No Direct Action
The trustees at first considered harsher measures, but backed down when it appeared that direct action against the student editors might be interpreted by the courts as prior restraint or censorship. Instead, a committee was appointed by board President Arthur Bronson to review policies governing student newspapers at the district's nine campuses.
The committee, headed by Trustee Wallace Albertson and including a member of "the working press," is expected to hold its first meeting in about a week, Bronson said.
"We are very sensitive to First Amendment rights," Bronson said, "so I'm not anticipating any changes in the basic rules. I see the committee's mission as one of persuasion and example, the need to instill in the students a stronger sense of professional ethics and responsibility."
Meanwhile, Joe Fields, author of the controversial Hawk articles, said he is hard at work writing more commentaries in the same vein. In his first effort for the Hawk this semester, Fields offered his thoughts on the bombing of abortion clinics.
Fields wrote that the bombings are "acts of men and women who, while breaking the laws of corrupt and evil men, have remained faithful to the supreme laws of God." The real "criminals and terrorists," he concluded, are the abortionists.
In a telephone interview, Fields, a history major who plans to continue his education at California State University, Dominguez Hills, next fall, said that criticism of his Hawk articles "has only confirmed everything I've ever believed about censorship and bias. It's made me a little more radical."
Cornner, who was transferred from Pierce College in Woodland Hills, said his first sessions with Fields and other Hawk editors have focused on the "canons of professional journalism" and the standards he will apply in grading their performances.
"I told them that the issue was not the rights of a free press," he said. "The issue is just poor journalism."
He said the Hawk's defiant stand on publishing the controversial articles has "attracted a lot of publicity and that gives the students a sense of power. Now they feel that if they back down, they will be showing cowardice in the face of public pressure."
Cornner said he wants to develop credibility with the student editors and show them that he is sincerely interested in helping them reach their career goals. "They need to understand that this is not the way to build a track record for the future," he said.
Harbor's journalism program has suffered from low enrollment, cuts in funding and lack of continuity after its last permanent instructor retired several years ago. Officials said they hope that Cornner's appointment as a full-time, permanent instructor will help strengthen the program.
Cornner, however, said he does not relish a long-term assignment at Harbor. It means commuting about 45 miles from his home in Northridge, he said, "and, frankly, if I had the choice, I would still be at Pierce . . . but I'm here, so I'll do the best job I can."
The assignment fell to Cornner after another Pierce teacher chosen for the post successfully argued that moving him to Harbor would violate his seniority rights.