Rumpus scolded for Bush story

Rumpus is no stranger to controversy, but a recent article the campus tabloid ran on the first daughter is giving it national exposure and trouble with the Yale administration.

A story that ran in Rumpus’ April edition about alleged mishaps in the Secret Service’s protection of Barbara Bush ’04, the daughter of President George W. Bush ’68, landed the tabloid’s editors in hot water with Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg, who charged Rumpus staffers with exploiting Bush’s presence on campus. At least two national publications, The Washington Post and tabloid The Star, have also taken an interest in Rumpus’ report on Barbara Bush’s security detail.

The cover of Rumpus’ April edition screamed “O Daughter, Where Art Thou,” and included a story on Barbara Bush’s Secret Service attache at Yale. On April 12, nearly a week after the issue had appeared in dining halls and newsstands around campus, Trachtenberg called Rumpus Editor in Chief Jared Leboff ’03, Managing Editor Matt Johnson ’03 and the article’s author, Nathaniel Pincus-Roth ’04, into her office. Following that meeting, Rumpus removed the current issue from the tabloid’s Web site.

Meanwhile, the national press is exploiting this first leak of news of Barbara to its full extent. The Washington Post ran an article on its online edition April 10 written by Lloyd Grove reporting on Rumpus’ coverage, but Post executive editor Leonard Downie later pulled it from the print edition, calling the story an “error” violating the newspaper’s policy to protect the relatives of public figures. An issue of the national tabloid The Star available in various areas of the country starting Saturday also features a story based on the Rumpus article. The Star article will run under the headline “Bush’s Kid’s Wild Joyride Scares Mom to Death,” said The Star reporter Steve Tinney.

The original Rumpus story claimed that on at least two occasions, the Secret Service officers assigned to Bush have inadvertently lost contact with her. Sometime last month, Rumpus reported, Bush and friends were driving to New York City when the agents following them got stuck at a toll booth for lack of the “E-ZPass,” which electronically deducts tolls as cars drive through.

“They didn’t have an E-ZPass, but we did, so after they paid their toll, they put on their sirens and sped 120 mph until they caught up with us,” Rumpus quoted one of Bush’s fellow passengers as saying. In another episode reported by Rumpus, a Secret Service agent asked a fellow resident of Bush’s freshman dorm if she knew where Bush was and whether “[Bush] would turn her cell phone on.”

Rumpus’ sources tell the Yale Daily News they stand by their account of both stories.

Trachtenberg was critical of the story’s accuracy and appropriateness, and called it “the most irresponsible kind of press that could possibly happen.”

“I was filled with disgust when I read the article in Rumpus, and I’m filled with disgust that somebody else had to again capitalize on somebody else’s privacy,” she said. She added, “The article was filled with all kinds of inaccuracies.” When pressed for specific examples, Trachtenberg refused to comment.

Leboff said he stands by his story. As a “public institution,” he said, the Secret Service is fair game for a story. But, he said, Trachtenberg’s request to have Rumpus take the story off the Web is reasonable given the circumstances.

“Its content is not specifically intended for any audience beyond Yale,” Leboff said. “I don’t think the response by Yale College was inappropriate.”

Rumpus’ removal of the story from its Web site has raised questions about free speech on campus.

Yale Herald Editor in Chief Kate Moran called Trachtenberg’s request that Rumpus remove the story from the Web site “inevitable” but “unfortunate.” Moran said that in her experience, Trachtenberg has been very sensitive to issues of free speech. But at the same time, Moran said the administration has occasionally offered “firm guidance.”

As part of its research for the story, the Washington Post faxed the Rumpus article to the White House Press Office and the First Lady’s Office, but the White House did not react to the story, a source at the Post said.

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