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February 11, 2014

DAVE BANGERT: Purdue and accusations of student media intimidation

School won't be able to sweep aside journalist's account.

(Continued)

“I think [because of the] publicity, they didn’t have a choice,” Kuhnle said of Purdue’s investigation. “I think our staff are somewhat targeted, because they’re students and they’re seen as that they can be pushed around.”

In a letter filed with Carol Shelby, Purdue director of environmental health and public safety, Kuhnle referenced a similar complaint filed in November 2010, when a Purdue officer blocked an Exponent reporter from taking video when a voter passed out at a ballot station in the Stewart Center. Kuhnle said The Exponent didn’t get much of a response from that case. (A video of that 12-minute encounter lives on.)

“I don’t want to predetermine what [Purdue is] going to say this time,” Kuhnle said, “but I have a pretty good feel for what to expect.”

Schultz’s assessment that Jan. 21 was a stressful situation might qualify as an understatement.

Even then, and in every other hectic scene where emergency personnel and media mix, there are some unwritten rules of engagement — how close is close enough and how soon is soon enough when developments should be shared with the public. (For the record: I was at the scene Jan. 21 and spent much of it being reminded of a police-ordered perimeter. I’m guessing we all were considered pains in the ass to some degree by police working the scene.)

To assume we’re on the same side would be wrong; it’s more like a healthy, albeit wary, respect for each other. As they say, we both have jobs to do.

But Purdue has a real problem on its hands if officers are working under the assumption that stifling the media is standard operating procedure — or even the best use of time during a shooting investigation.

The Purdue police side of this will matter. But the university isn’t going to be able to sweep aside the account of a student journalist facing the choice between a story, arrest, losing his equipment and an officer allegedly threatening to bring an end to a college career.

The President Mitch Daniels era at Purdue is one that understands perception matters as much as the real thing. In this case, the perception, at the very least, isn’t so good.

Dave Bangert is a columnist for the Journal & Courier, Lafayette. Contact him at dbangert@journalandcourier.com

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