Miami student says campus newspaper dismissed him for conservative views

A student at Miami University claims he was fired from the student newspaper because the editors did not consider his conservative views credible.

Ayesh Perera signed on as a columnist with The Miami Student at the beginning of this semester, but was terminated by the editorial board in late November after submitting just three pieces, only one of which was ever published, and then only with significant revisions.

“They did not know that I was a conservative at first,” Perera told Campus Reform, noting that when he submitted his first column— the one that was published—the editors “never told me anything about citations or anything like that … so I don't think that's something they ask of all opinion writers.”

When the column was published, however, Perera said he noticed that several major changes had been made, some of which he feels distorted the views he was trying to present, apparently because the opinion editor had taken issue with some of his claims.

In the op-ed, Perera highlights several inconsistencies between President Obama’s words and his actions, noting for instance that Obama issued strong warning about the dangers of a growing national debt before presiding over a massive expansion of the debt as president, and that his infamous “red line” in Syria has been crossed repeatedly without consequence.

Although an ally on the staff was able to help him restore much of the original version, Perera said that his travails with the paper only increased with his subsequent submissions, copies of which he shared with Campus Reform. He also provided copies of email exchanges he had with the paper’s opinion editor regarding the columns to demonstrate the level of scrutiny to which he was subjected.

“They challenged my sources, saying outlets like Fox News are unreliable, so I provided my citations, which didn't include Fox News or anything like that,” he recounted. “Then they told me that the sources were reliable, but that the facts had been taken out of context to support my views.”

Perera’s second op-ed addressed the Planned Parenthood controversy in the context of legalized abortion, arguing that abortion has a particularly pernicious influence on the black community, supporting that claim with a quote from Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, who once remarked that “We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.”

The column also made the case that the abortion issue should not have been decided by unelected judges, but rather by the representatives of the American people. Perera cites Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun’s majority opinion in the landmark Roe v. Wade case, in which the judge asserted that “[w]e need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins,” and contends that it would have been preferable for the justices to leave that question to those with a background in science.

Opinion editor James Steinbauer responded to that column by email on November 16, saying that while the paper appreciated Perera’s submission, it would not be publishing the piece because “Many of your sources—including The National Review, several untraceable Wikipedia pages, and—did not prove to be credible.”

Steinbauer also notes that “many of your quotes from Margaret Sanger and Harry Blackmun were taken completely out of context,” asserting that “the lead to your piece, specifically, reduced the formulation of Planned Parenthood to nothing more than a wildly offensive quote,” and that Perera had misinterpreted the quote from Blackmun.

Perera responded the next day, saying that he would gladly provide any additional sources the editors might desire, but at the same time questioning the legitimacy of the challenge by recalling that the paper’s initial explanation for why it would not publish the column cited space constraints, not concerns about his sources or use of quotations.

“If you have any concerns about the verity of ‘ANY’ of the ‘facts’, I openly CHALLENGE you to prove me wrong conclusively if you can,” Perera writes. “Furthermore, I have every reason to believe that you have let your personal ideological views affect your decision not to publish my article.”

In support of that charge, Perera notes that “while you seem to be extremely concerned about my quoting Margaret Sanger verbatim, you seem to be perfectly alright with, and even supportive of some of your other writers accusing Donald Trump of making ‘outrageous’ comments.”

Perera also questions Steinbauer’s assertion that the decision to reject his submission came from the editorial board, claiming to know that several editors were not involved in the decision at all.

“This reasonably makes me think that the ‘editorial board’ consisted of only those particular editors who also happen to be your ideological peers,” he states. “I strongly feel you have let your personal ideological views determine the validity of my article, and that you have attempted to interpret its facts according your personal views.”

Nonetheless, Perera ends with a note of conciliation, saying that he had attached the citations for his next article “well ahead of the deadline” so that the objections he anticipated from the editors could be resolved in time for the column to be published.

Perera’s next submission—which would turn out to be his last—addressed the issue of Islamic terrorism in the wake of the Paris attacks, arguing that President Obama has consistently underestimated the threat posed by groups such as ISIS because he refuses to acknowledge their fundamentalist religious nature.

Perera begins by offering Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a contrast to Obama, noting that whereas the devout Muslim president has unequivocally denounced those who use religious teachings to justify violence, Obama cannot even bring himself to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” in reference to beheadings, mass killings, and other atrocities.

“The editorial board is thrilled that you want to take on big, controversial, political issues; however, when you do so, you must make sure that they are based in fact,” Steinbauer told Perera after reviewing the column. “Too often, quotes are taken completely out of context, [and] facts are cherry-picked to support already-existing opinions.

“Were you to write a conservative piece where you called out Obama for being a coward when it comes to terrorism, using factual information, then we may have been able to publish it,” Steinbauer continued, but then added that “because this has been a recurring problem, the editorial board has decided that we will not be able to work with you as a writer any longer.”

Steinbauer assured Perera that “this is not because your opinions are conflicting,” saying, “we encourage the submission of differing opinions.” Rather, he explained, the editorial staff would simply not be able to handle Perera’s submissions any longer because “it gets to the point where the staff is sitting here, combing through your pieces, trying to fact check every detail, [and] it is no longer worth it.”

Steinbauer gives two examples of problems with Perera’s most recent op-ed, providing links to articles showing that, first, “never is it mentioned that the shooter [in the Charlie Hebdo attack] was affiliated with ISIS,” and second, that “Obama DID say that the 21 Egyptians killed [by ISIS beheadings] were Christians.”

Yet, as Perera points out in his reply, he had never actually made the contentions that Steinbauer refuted.

“First of all, nowhere in the article did I write that the Obama ‘never’ acknowledged that they were Christians,” Perera said in reference to the second point. “What I wrote was, ‘Obama, in his initial response,’ refused to acknowledge that they were Christians.”

Regarding the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Perera countered that “I have not mentioned ISIS at all,” reminding Steinbauer that his column had actually stated that the attackers were affiliated with Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.

“It seems to me as though you have been arduously trying, whenever I respond to you on one thing, to find all kinds other reasons as lame excuses, not to publish my articles,” Perera said, recounting that the editors “seemed to be skillfully coming up with new reasons for not publishing” his material.

Perera told Campus Reform that he has not received responses to any of his emails, nor to his request for a face-to-face meeting with the editorial board, adding that the only compromise he was ever offered prior to his termination—that his columns would be published if he were to remove the sections being challenged—was unacceptable to him on principle.

“It would have been fine even if they had chosen to publish online alone, but I didn't specifically ask for it and they didn't offer,” he said. “The compromise they offered was for me to remove some of the things that I wrote,” such as the Margaret Sanger quote, but “since my words could be supported by conclusive evidence, I refused to alter the details, and I think that's what really ticked them off.”

Perera indicated that he was not especially surprised by the hostility that his columns elicited from the editorial staff, saying, “I think most conservatives do not even consider writing for the newspaper, because they have the impression that it only presents liberal views,” and remarking that many of the paper’s liberal opinion columns include far more questionable claims than those in his op-eds.

“Perhaps it was because of my ideology that I wasn't allowed to publish my articles,” he said, a view he claims is supported by conversations with a friend of his who works for the paper. “It certainly wasn’t based on any certifiable reason that they refused to publish my articles.”

Steinbauer, on the other hand, told Campus Reform that the decision to stop accepting submissions from Perera was not motivated by ideology, explaining that the staff has no problem publishing conservative opinions, but simply could not justify the amount of effort needed to fact-check Perera’s articles.

“Our publication has published many conservative opinion pieces—content from differing viewpoints is essential if an opinion page is to maintain its role as a medium for public dialogue—and no doubt will publish many more,” Steinbauer said. “Yet, all of them, like any other opinion piece in our paper, must have a solid foundation in fact.”

Perera’s pieces, however, “were riddled with non-credible sources, and after multiple runs through The Miami Student's editing process we asked him for better sourcing,” Steinbauer maintained. “When he would not or could not produce it, the editorial board decided we weren't interested in working with him. End of story.”

Steinbauer also disputed the characterization of Perera’s termination from the paper as a “firing,” explaining that Perera “was not a staff member, simply a contributing writer,” and therefore the paper had only to terminate its relationship with him.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete