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Sudsy Wants You to Join the Oregon Commentator

Twenty-five years of commentary, bound

December 3rd, 2009
Page 4B
By Ott Tamik
Scene Reporter

[please note the lack of the Emerald’s copy-editing during the last 3 paragraphs. Yes, this is how the story was originally printed, complete with duplicate paragraphs.]

Despite multiple defunding attempts and death threats, the Oregon Commentator has survived at the University for more and a quarter century, and – nobody asked them but – the publciation now has a book to immortalize its journey.

Edited by University senior Timothy Dane Carbaugh, “By the Barrel: 25 Years of the Oregon Commentator” documents all the juicy details and scandalous episodes of the OC, some of which the publication’s alumni were not even aware of.

As the second-oldest student publication at the Unviersity, the libertarian magazine begins its nostalgic overview with a comment from none other than University President Emeritus Dave Frohnmayer, whose fake obituary was printed as a joke on the front cover of the November 1999 issue.

“Picking up a new issue of the Commentator is like acknowledging an unwelcome addictive behavior. The Commentator is useful every several years to test UO administrators’ resolve to defend the First Amendment in the face of outrageous journalistic excess,” Frohnmayer wrote.

Das Frohn (as the OC nicknamed him) is not alone in noting the OC’s “indifference to the law of defamation” and failure to live up to “any minimal standard of editorial good taste.” From the beginning, the OC has taken editorial journalism to the extreme. And from the beginning, its philosophy has been that the University is a battlefield for ideas. Not only that, they actually feel it is their duty to pick fights in order to advance the community’s ideas.

“A lot of things we have said have not been liked over the years, and I thought there was a story to tell,” said Carbaugh, who spent more than 400 hours researching newspaper archives and interviewing alumni for the book.

Former Editor-in-Chief CJ Ciaramella (now an Emerald news reporter) first got the idea when he noticed a similar book written by the conservative Dartmouth Review, and he thought it was a good way to utilize the OC’s savings from selling T-shirts and other fundraising efforts from over the years. The project was started numerous times without success until Carbaugh, the current publisher, took the lead. Carbaugh, a history major who has been on the OC staff since last March, worked from May to October researching, writing and compiling the book.

“You feel like you’re making discoveries like an archeologist brushing off dirt with a brush. It’s worth the work,” Carbaugh said.

Interestingly enough, Carbaugh did not pick up the magazine to read as a freshman because he was a Democrat and heard that the OC was highly conservative.

“Three years later, I’m the publisher and I’ve written a book,” Carbaugh said.

OC contributor, copy editor and former publisher Guy Simmons said the new book exceeded his expectations in every way.

“It’s neat to see a student produce something that is worth reading. I think it’s a pretty good job for a couple of undergraduates,” Simmons said.

For Simmons, the OC is important because it is one of the few student organizations that is entirely student-run, without and “meddling authority figures” to help it function. That is what he calls “the magic of the OC”.

But it is also one of the only publications in America to reprint the controversial Danish Muhammad cartoons in full. Issues of the OC have been dumped in protest by the thousands, and its contributors have even been called into the national arena of debate by The O’Reilly Factor.

Simmons reflected on the OC’s inability to keep quiet.

“I don’t think there should be any kind of censorship of ideas. If people have ridiculous things to say, let them say them so they can be exposed,” Simmons said.

Yet the OC had 18,000 hits on its blog last month, and the book’s existence demonstrates the passion that people have for the OC’s cause and the extent that fellow Commentators will go to justify the publication’s integrity.

The OC staff feels its first responsibility is to provide compelling content for a college readership and to avoid “overly cautious and dull” newspaper writing. “We’re not cautious to print material that might be offensive to some people. We’re cautious to be confident in our own opinions,” Carbaugh said.

The Commentators don’t expect always to get positive feedback, but that’s not the point. Simmons believes the number and variety of student media is lacking in a university with thousands of journalism students. The OC sees itself as the voice of a demographic that would otherwise go unheard, and its purpose is to open a dialog between people with opposing viewpoints. Carbaugh agrees. “The OC has defended those who haven’t had the voice to defend themselves on campus,” Carbaugh said.

Simmons recalled several instances in which he angered fellow classmates simply by asking unpopular questions.

“I think that at the University of Oregon, if you’re not marching on party lines, you have a strong chance of being silenced in classes. Altruistically, I think the war of ideas is important and at the UO there is a certain accepted storyline, and if you try to deviate from that, expect to be punished,” he said.

If for nothing else, the book is an unusual student effort to tell stories of the University. Sometimes they are stories people would prefer to forget. Nonetheless, Simmons, the book’s publisher, was surprised at the lack of institutional memory at the University. At one point, the ASUO was unable to identify who had been its vice president in 1994.

Carbaugh said there will always be a thirst for the Commentator on campus. “I’m hoping the book will put the commentator [sic] in perspective. It’s also a tool for future generations of Oregon Commentators to look back and contextualize it,” said Carbaugh. “The OC needs to know where they’ve been to understand where they’re going.”

“By the Barrel” – a flashy and professional hardcover book with pictures – can be purchased at the Duck Store for $10 or directly through the Commentator through its website or by visiting its office.

“I’m hoping the book will put the Commentator in perspective. It’s also a tool for future generations of Oregon Commentators to look back and contextualize it,” Carbaugh said. “The OC needs to know where they’ve been to understand where they’re going.”