Impeaching a Student Editor: How Political Power and Charges of Racism and Inappropriate Use of Travel Funds Led to His Removal

By Wolper, Allan | Editor & Publisher, December 25, 1993 | Go to article overview

Impeaching a Student Editor: How Political Power and Charges of Racism and Inappropriate Use of Travel Funds Led to His Removal


Wolper, Allan, Editor & Publisher


THIS IS A story about political power and charges of racism and inappropriate use of travel funds, all of which led to the impeachment of a student newspaper editor.

The situation at the Oracle, based at the State University of New York College at New Paltz, drew coverage by the New York Daily News, followed by USA Today and CBS News' 48 Hours.

The uncivil journalism war at the Oracle erupted after the paper's Oct. 22 edition hit the campus with its weekly fortune-telling satire called "Your Real Horoscope?'

The phony horoscope attacked the "lactose-intolerant, dwarves and midgets, fascist Canadians, the handicapped, the Irish, a filthy, swarthy wop, old people" and blacks, who were the only ones who protested.

"Feeling down?" the horoscope asked those born under the sign of Aquarius. "Relieve stress with a good old-fashioned lynching.

"Don't sign the back of your driver's license because your kidney might go to a minority person," it told those born under the Pisces sign.

The horoscope, which the campus paper buys from Onion Features of Madison, Wis., was written by Ruby Wuyner-Lo, a pseudonym for Kelly Ambrose, a 20-year-old student at the University of Wisconsin. It included the following warning: "Ruby Wuyner-Lo was kidnapped and brainwashed by the Ku Klux Klan, who despise her because of her fondness for rap music. She is currently being deprogrammed?'

The horoscope struck a raw nerve in the New Paltz school's black students, who saw it as a slight by a paper with an alleged history of offending minorities and ignoring their concerns.

The Student Association Senate held a public meeting and talked about cutting off the paper's funds unless the editor, Alex Viaggio, apologized.

The attack on the paper's treasury was defeated by a great majority of student politicians, who said the student association had no legal right to end the funding.

After the meeting and a series of verbal confrontations in the Oracle's newsroom with outraged black students, Viaggio decided to resign.

"I'm done" he wrote in a farewell editorial in which he complained of a lack of support from his newsroom cob leagues. "And I'm exhausted from the fight. I'm down and I'm gonna stay that way. I have no more oomf in me?"

Viaggio, a 25-year-old computer science student, also said in the editorial that he published the phony horoscope because he believed that it belittled the KKK. "It has a message, a good one," he said, referring to the controversial horoscope. "It's not really attacking minorities, it's attacking the Ku Klux Klan .... I do not ... support the philosophies and action of the KKK. But I do support their right to express their philosophies?'

After resigning, Viaggio left campus to attend an Associated Collegiate Press conference in Dallas. Before he left, he said he began to have second thoughts about resigning.

"I told Cindy Herrschaft, our social issues editor, that my editorial was not really a resignation and that I might change my mind again" he said.

But when he returned, Herrschaft called a meeting of the student editorial board, charging Viaggio with "incompetent management" and asked for a vote to impeach him.

The first two ballots ended in a 3-3 deadlock, but the editorial board voted again the next day and Viaggio was ousted in a 4d vote, with one abstention.

Herrschaft, who resigned last spring as editor in chief of the Oracle for personal reasons, was chosen to replace Viaggio for the rest of the fall semester.

She said the editorial board had been feuding with Viaggio since summer.

"He decided to run the horoscope after everyone told him it was in bad taste," she said. "That was the way he ran the newsroom. He didn't want to listen to anyone?'

Viaggio saw the conflict differently. "Cindy Herrschaft has been undermining me since she quit last spring," he said. …

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