JMU charges Breeze reporters

JGFitzgerald -- October 24th, 2009

According to reports in the Breeze and a local paywalled publication, two Breeze reporters face University charges after interviewing students about a peeping tom incident. University spokespersons have been silent on the issue.
ETA: Breeze editor Tim Chapman, one of the two journalists charged, said later that the Student Press Law Center and other legal advisers, on campus and off, have suggested that he and the other reporter not respond to the charges through official University channels. Instead they will ask through a faculty member or through an attorney to have the charges dismissed.

Chapman said he and the other journalist were asking in the dorm for facts about and reactions to the incident. He said many students were creeped out by the incident, and that the Breeze journalists respected the wishes of anyone who asked not to be interviewed.

58 Responses to “JMU charges Breeze reporters”

  1. John Major says:

    Being in the press doesn’t give you permission to violate policies. I could just as well argue my free speech rights allow me to go anywhere I want to, perhaps into the JMU President’s personal office or on the floor of the US Capitol, but I would be incorrect. Rights are not absolute; they are relative and circumscribed by other people’s rights. In this case, Chapman’s rights were circumscribed by JMU’s property rights. Because JMU owns the dorms, it can dictate what policies exist for being in them. As an agent of the University, the hall director can make any determination about who is in her dorm at any time. Pulling the “I was just asking questions” card is just dumb. I suppose Chapman thinks he can simply barge into anyone’s private abode and ask them questions whenever he wants? Flatly ridiculous! He did something wrong and should own up to it, not whine.

  2. JGFitzgerald says:

    You have it backwards, JM. This is not a case of someone arguing special rights for journalists. It’s a case of a right everyone else has being taken away from someone who is a journalist because that person is a journalist. The hall director has no absolute ability to take those rights away. Until the University or someone speaking for it defends that hall director’s actions with facts, we have every reason to assume the hall director violated the rules. The abuse of power issue remains to be resolved.

  3. BANDIT says:

    I read an article a few months back that the residents of several student housing complexes were upset that peeping tom incidences were basically being hushed up by JMU and the local media. This makes me think that JMU doesn’t want the peeping tom news to be publicized … the students and the Breeze have every right to inform those who may be the next victim. What’s it going to take, a rape or murder to make it something that they will admit is an on going problem … on and off campus?

  4. David Miller says:

    Of course JMU doesn’t want special attention being paid to these cases, fear spreads. As far as their right to block or censure reporters, good luck!

  5. Andy Perrine says:

    Bandit and David, you are both wrong. JMU does everything in its power to inform students and the public about threats to student safety.

    First, the issue you cite Bandit a few weeks back occurred because HPD did not inform JMU about the trespasses. The eight trespasses were off-campus and the university had no idea. The HPD spokesperson confirmed this in the DNR story and I’d link to it if it were not behind the subscription wall. Once JMU learned of the incidents an email was sent to all students. How is that “hushed up by JMU”?

    Second, in the case of this most recent issue, JMU sent an e-mail to all students within 24 hours of the trespassing on campus — this was long before the Breeze editor and reporter were in the dormitory. In fact, The Breeze reporters found out about the incident because of this email. The Breeze article includes this:

    “On Sunday, Hibson, a sophomore media arts and design major, was investigating the Oct. 14 trespassing incident in Hillside Hall, which The Breeze learned about when JMU sent a “Timely Notice” e-mail Sunday morning.”

    Again, how is that “hushed up by JMU”?

    Next, if JMU was hoping to keep the latest incident hushed, why on earth would the university charge the editor and a reporter from the newspaper with trespassing? It was assumed from the very beginning that the paper would report on the charge. Again, how is that “hushed”?

    And finally, Joe, you state above,

    “Until the University or someone speaking for it defends that hall director’s actions with facts, we have every reason to assume the hall director violated the rules. The abuse of power issue remains to be resolved.”

    The university never comments publicly about student judicial issues. So you’re not going to hear any more details. Further, it seems irresponsible to me that you would “assume” a set of facts about an incident of which you have no direct experience. In the absence of the truth you’re allowed to simply make up your own? Isn’t that the opposite of “innocent until proven guilty?”

  6. For the record, as JMU’s associate vice president for communications and marketing, Andrew Perrine is not exactly an unbiased source.

    The DNR article in question can be found on our blog, (resist the DNR paywall!) and reads “[Egle] said JMU Police Chief Lee Shifflett found out the details of the one incident only when he read thursdays edition of The Breeze, the university’s student-run paper”, and “JMU has failed to properly notify students and should have sent a timely notification – not just a ‘vague’ e-mail telling students to keep their homes and car doors locked.”

    “how is that ‘hushed up by JMU’?” Because they left an important detail out of the e-mail, they failed to specify what the actual threat to the students was, etc.

    Andrew Perrine has publicly defended even the most atrocious actions of JMU, including the demolition of working-class neighborhoods via eminent domain, in preparation for the construction of the newest arts complex. His public persona is that of a shille. JMU does not act in the interests of the community, it is a capitalist institution that exploits students, faculty, and the masses of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. JMU has acted in the past to cover up incidents of sexual aggression on campus, (eg: the recent sexual assault in the parking lot Memorial Hall)

  7. Andy Perrine says:

    Wow. Not even worth a response.

  8. Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard says:

    In the interest of citizen-university relations, further constructive response could certainly be worth your time and patience.

    There are plenty of people with sentiments like the Rocktown Rebel’s and simply ending the conversations like this by simply denying their worth does not help matters.

  9. JGFitzgerald says:


    Not commenting on judicial issues is a two-edged sword. Despite the qualifications, it’s still a refusal to comment. It is not irresponsible to assume a set of facts about an incident reported in the Breeze, unless you’re saying the newspaper can’t be trusted. In the absence of any contradicting version, the facts as presented suggest the RA broke or made up the rules. Innocent until proven guilty is a courtroom concept, not a journalistic one. The journalistic concept would be to believe the facts in the Breeze until there’s a reason not to. Not commenting on “fill in the blank” is a tried and true concept that has some merit. But a JMU statement of what gave the RA the right to declare those students in violation, and of what, would not be a comment on the details of the case or any individuals. Rather it might be a way to show that the RA in question did not apply the rules differently against two people just because they were reporters. All of the facts reported so far say that’s what happened, and that’s an issue that ought to be addressed by a University named for the Father of the Constitution. The Federalist Papers didn’t say, “We never comment on proceedings of the Constitutional Convention.”

  10. Andy Perrine says:


    While I am very interested in university-community relations (I am a member of the community after all), Rocktown Rebel’s comment includes name calling, misconceptions and intellectual dishonesty. These are the features of public speech designed to create separation, not mutual understanding. So what’s the point of engaging? If you, however, have any questions you’d like me to address, I’d be happy to.

    Joe, I am not suggesting the newspaper is not to be trusted. But you most definitely suggest that the RA and the university are not to be trusted. Again, to protect student privacy, the university does not comment on student judicial affairs. If the university sustains negative public response because of this position, that’s the way it will have to be.

  11. JGFitzgerald says:


    The principle of no comment is clear. But the students charged (and presumed guilty, according to the email they received) have waived that protection. The university is now protecting either the RA or the policy.

  12. Andy Perrine says:


    The students are not presumed guilty. The judicial process includes a right to a fair and impartial hearing. Until then, it’s just a charge. Here’s an excerpt from the student handbook:

    “An accused student has the following rights:

    * The right to a fair and impartial hearing.

    * The right to a presumption of not being responsible for a violation until proven responsible as determined by a preponderance of the evidence presented at the hearing.”

    This standard applies to all student judicial affairs including the one discussed here.

  13. MB Green says:

    The article I read a few weeks ago in the Daily News Republican said there was an incident where a female student woke up to find a man standing over her bed – not just peeping in the window at her. Yet some nit-wit official at JMU dismissed the incidents as not a big deal. Personally, I think that article should be sent to every parent with a daughter at JMU or who is thinking about sending a daughter to JMU.

    I personally agree with almost everything Rocktown Rebel said about JMU. They are no friend to this community.

  14. JGFitzgerald says:

    Full disclosure: I’d already privately conceded to Andy the last word. But as far as JMU being no friend to the community: We’d be Waynesboro without it.

  15. MB Green says:

    What’s wrong with Waynesboro? It’s a cool little town.

  16. Barnabas says:

    I like Waynesboro, they have the best asian buffet in the area (Ming Garden). But it’s still a meth town with a big shopping center.

  17. Renee says:

    On one hand, they could have interviewed people out on the street and not been in the dorm, which is perceived by some people as a private area.

    However, if she can name who let her into the dorm (as their “guest”), and she also identified herself has a reporter, I’m not sure what’s wrong with knocking on doors to ask questions. It’s like a reporter knocking on the door to your house to ask about something that happened in your neighborhood. You can just not answer the door, or not answer questions and close the door if you don’t want to be bothered. If she wasn’t harassing people that didn’t want to answer questions, what was she doing that was “disorderly”?

    Getting the police involved and charging her with “Trespassing and Disorderly Conduct” sounds quite overboard. Does anyone know what the potential consequences of being found guilty are?

    I went to the JMU site to find the timely notices to post them for reference of the above discussion, but it seems they delete the old ones. (Though there is another on-campus man-in-women’s-bathroom notice up now. – I don’t think they should call this event a “peeping tom”. “Peeping Tom” makes me think “looking into open windows”, not physically entering bathrooms and opening curtains on naked females!)

  18. Renee says:

    I don’t blame the RA for being on-edge if an incident just occurred on campus where an unauthorized person was harrassing women in a dorm (they’ve probably been instructed to keep non-residents out), but this campus newspaper reporter was trying to investigate the story, which is an important one to report about, and it just seems like an overreaction to be putting her on trial with Judicial Affairs for knocking on doors to ask questions.

  19. Renee says:

    Here is a related letter to the editor from before this most recent incident:

  20. Drew Richard says:

    Everyone is giving Breeze reporters too much credit. It’s not like they’d accurately report the quotes anyway…

    Any RA or Hall Director has the right to ask any non-resident to leave. If they come back, said campus staff have the right to get the police involved, especially given recent events. Not to mention, if you haven’t talked to a Breeze reporter lately…especially the editor-in-chief…I’m not sure respectful is a word I would use to describe him (or reporter for that matter). They think because they are Breeze writers they are above everyone else.

  21. BANDIT says:

    Actually, Waynesboro has grown leaps and bounds in the past fifteen years …..without a College.

  22. Jamie Smith says:

    Joe, actually I think we would be Elkton without JMU.

  23. Brad says:

    The Arizona Daily Wildcat has weighed in with this editorial:

  24. Barnabas says:

    In all actuality we would be Lynchburg without JMU. Don’t forget our other U.

  25. Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard says:

    Or Staunton…doesn’t sound so bad.

  26. Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard says:

    But we are not any of those towns. And we do have two Universities. Despite the tensions and dangers that this poses, we must continue to work together to maximize the advantages (and minimize the disadvantages) of having such a large U in our city. Close-minded polarities of blind loyalty or reactionary hatred towards JMU will not help Harrisonburg do that.

  27. Andy Perrine says:

    Nicely put, Nicholas. Agreed.

  28. Jamie Smith says:

    Well, I guess that settles that. Now, what about the Breeze people. Will we know more Thursday when the paper comes out again or will Andy put the quietus on them???

  29. Deb SF says:

    AP has it here: VA university charges 2 students with reporting

    Googling “va university charges students with reporting the news”, the title of the AP story, now brings up more than 2 million hits.

  30. Andy Perrine says:

    “… Andy put the quietus on them??” I hope you’re being facetious.

  31. Renee says:

    Just a note on the editorial Brad linked to – they identify their editorial board members by name! Take notes, DNR!

    About the AP article – sounds like you a bad press story (the peeping tom) worse with this prosecution, JMU…

  32. Liz says:

    I really don’t understand why they tried to go in at all. They talked to residents outside of the building and got their comments. Didn’t they already have their story? If they wanted to go in, they should have notified the hall staff beforehand to arrange something. RA’s and Hall Directors can kick any non-resident out of the building. It’s probably unsettling to have Breeze reporters that you don’t know trying to interview you in your place of living when there are at least two sexual predators in the area that have been targeting female students.

  33. Andy Perrine says:

    Bingo, Liz.

  34. BANDIT says:

    Liz, maybe they were trying to get “the rest of the story”….They could of been on to something however, after they identified themselves, should they have been charged?

  35. Renee says:

    The question here is, did their actions break official rules and should they be charged and put on trial for their actions?

    Does anyone know what the potential punishments are for what they’re being charged for?

  36. BANDIT says:

    Renee, from reading the paper this morning, it sounds like the reporters tried and did everything by the book.

  37. Josh says:

    Additional coverage–

    Richmond Times-Dispatch: JMU journalists face judicial charges at the school

    DNR: Editorial – Drop The Charges (doesn’t require subscription to read)

    Student Press Law Center: JMU journalists face disciplinary action after on-campus reporting

    DNR: State SPJ Urges JMU To Drop Charges (requires subscription to read)

    The Breeze: Police, Judicial Charge Breeze Reporters

    WHSV: First Amendment Battle over JMU

    WHSV: Student Reporters Charges

  38. Andy,

    Unless somehow you were the one telling RAs to actively kick reporters out of the dorms, it is unfair of others to get on your case about this situation. However, as it is, whatever has gone down exactly, this is now a PR disaster for JMU.

    Something that I have not seen reported on (might be hard to do so now?), but which seems important to me, is the following. Did any of the residents of the dorm go to the RA(s) and ask for the reporters to be removed? Were they actually upsetting any of the residents?

    Clearly there are rules against outsiders being in the dorms, but these rules are only (or usually) enforced if the outsiders are somehow upsetting the residents. Outsiders (especially student ones) are in the dorms all the time. If the RA took it upon his or (I gather) herself to kick them out and then call the cops without any residents actually complaining, then, frankly, while they may have been acting legally, they were acting stupidly, bringing essentially universal opprobrium upon this university and this community.

  39. Although perhaps the real stupidity has been on the part of those following up on the actions of the RA(s) by bringing formal charges through the university and criminal legal systems. This latter is what is really bringing the opprobrium.

  40. Andy Perrine says:

    Thanks, Barkley. I appreciate your perspective. And, no, I was nowhere near when this incident occurred, nor aware. I am now, though.

    As far as dissecting what happened, you’re getting right at the nut to be covered during the judicial hearing. And, while these details might help those so very upset about this to understand both sides, we can’t comment on that.

  41. Barnabas says:

    If there are people getting into dorms and watching people when they are sleeping then the RA did the right thing.
    If the RA’s say it’s okay for Breeze reporters to be in the dorms then all anyone needs to say to gain access is “I’m with the Breeze”. Especially with what was going on on campus the reporters should have been more sensitive to the situation and should thought about what they were doing which was a story about people gaining access to dorms they do not live in by gaining access to dorms they do not live in. But then I do tend to be overly critical.

  42. BANDIT says:

    Barnabas, They had people who lived there escort them in the building… according to the DNR today.

  43. But then, so I have been told, they knocked on the RA’s door, who did not like it, ooooops!

    Given that this happened during the daytime, those darned Breeze reporters were clearly about to look at people sleeping, and maybe even at ones taking showers, gosh, maybe even threatening them with long knives as in the movie, “Psycho”!!!

  44. Josh says:

    More coverage–

    Reporter’s Notebook (blog): Student reporters charged with trespassing while reporting on trespassing

    The Breeze: Judicial Charges Draw National Coverage

    Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: Student Reporters at James Madison University Threatened with Disciplinary Action for Attempting to Report On-Campus Incident

    US News and World Report: James Madison University Charges Student Journalists With 3 Violations

    The Cavalier Daily: JMU brings judicial charges against two student journalists

    Jon Slattery (UK Blog): Foot in the dorm student journalists charged

    The Rotunda (Longwood University): James Madison Reporters Receive Judicial Charges for Doing Their Jobs?

  45. Drew Richard says:

    I read the punishment somewhere, forget where. Basically, all that happens if they are charged is they have a note put in their records. If it happens a few more times they might get kicked out of school, but it’s not like that’s going to happen. Even if they do get charged, it doesn’t really matter. This has been blown way out of proportion, but I guess it’s one of those “principle of the thing” issues.

  46. JGFitzgerald says:

    Since this is three charges, is it one strike or three?

  47. Barnabas says:

    Did the DNR say that the people who escorted them stayed with them for the entire time they were in the building? If that is the case then I can see how the RA could have been wrong. But being let into the building by someone who lives there shouldn’t give you the right to wander whereever you want. If it was truely an escort then the escorter should take responsibility, if they were just let in then they really should have known better.

  48. alex says:

    The Breeze reported Monday that the reporters were accompanied n both occasions — first by a resident who remained within 15 feet of the reporter (Hibson) and second by a resident and editor on The Breeze staff.

  49. alex says:

    Sorry, to clarify — the second incident is the one that resulted in the charges against Chapman and Hibson. The resident and editor who let them in the second time was not charged.

  50. Drew,

    I do not know what the punishment is, but many J.A. punishments potentially involve at least suspension. Given the negative publicity this is generating, my guess is that if they are found guilty, they will get the minimum, whatever that may be. Yeah, probably mostly principle of the thing.

    That said, as someone not under order of any attorney and with access to a lot of students who are loudly expressing their views and reporting the gossip coming out of this, I shall repeat the gossip, keeping in mind that that is exactly what it is. The real facts might be different.

    So, what is the student gossip? They were not just let in but escorted in by a resident, with the escort with them at all times. More importantly in my book, the gossip says that not a single student complained of their presence aside from the RA. The RA is the only student to make a complaint. If this is correct (which I do not know for sure), I think this proceeding may well turn into more of a prosecution of this RA than of the reporters, and if the gossip is correct, it is my own personal opinion that this RA deserves to be fired as soon as can be done legally for massive incompetence and violation of civil liberties.

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