Thursday, April 05, 2007

MICHAEL HENDRIX, PART 2

Wednesday's post about a university professor with a history of pedophilia now has a second-day angle. News-Leader reporter Steve Koehler's follow-up story about Michael Hendrix, an associate professor at Missouri State University who served time in prison for raping a 9-year-old child in Ohio, includes a couple of surprises:

•MSU administrators, past and present, are now putting daylight between themselves and Hendrix. One told the News-Leader that had he known about Hendrix's past, he might not have hired him.

•The MSU student who brought the story to a head, Ryan Cooper, said he was not working on a story for the Community Free Press. Instead, Cooper said he was doing an assignment for his advanced journalism class. That's why he was stopping parents in the pickup line at Greenwood Laboratory School, asking them how they felt about their children being on the same campus as a sex offender.

•Cooper also insisted that he never intended for Hendrix's past to become public knowledge:
After reviewing sex offender sites and searching for sex offenders at the state's 12 four-year universities, Cooper said he found Hendrix on a list and decided to talk to parents about the issue of having a sex offender on campus.

He said he did not mention Hendrix's name and only talked to two parents, one of whom knew Hendrix's past.

"This story wasn't about him. It was about campus procedures," he said.
•Cooper's journalism instructor, Mary Jane Pardue, wouldn't tell Koehler squat about Cooper or the alleged assignment:
To do so, Pardue said, would violate the student's right to privacy, even though Cooper provided the name of his instructor and the name of the class to a reporter.

Pardue refused to comment on any aspect of the assignment or what was being taught in her class in general terms, such as if a student is taught how to conduct or prepare for interviews, how to approach subjects for interviews or how to arrange for visiting a site where there are safety measures in place.

"I don't think it's appropriate to talk about assignments," she said.
Pardue's refusal to discuss assignments from her class is troubling. As a journalism instructor she's supposed to be a fierce advocate for freedom of the press, yet when questioned by a member of the press, she clams up and invokes a student's right to privacy. Cooper's privacy rights have nothing to do with Pardue's class assignment.

Not mentioned in the story is Cooper's history of stirring it up. He sued the university in 2003, claiming his conservative group, Young Americans for Freedom, was being discriminated against because of its "political and religious viewpoints."

Cooper is executive director of Missouri State Conservatives. In his Facebook profile he lists his political views as "very conservative," though he has insisted that he's more of a Libertarian than a Republican.

Did Cooper's political beliefs belong in the story? Dunno. His class assignment, if that's what it was, doesn't have a clear political motive. But his history of creating controversy is well-known and might have provided better context on why he did what he did.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pardue sets a rotten example for her students.

And...in light of today's story, and the posting of the MSU news release on the newspaper's website, I really find myself wondering why the university decided to take such an aggressively proactive route to call attention to Hendrix's past. I can understand that they'd want to be in a position to respond to questions, but to actually issue a news release saying, hey, yup, we've got a sex offender on the faculty?

Would they do that for/to other sex offenders on their faculty? What about student sex offenders?

I'm not at all defending Hendrix from what he did long ago. Clearly that was wrong. But is it right for the university to take such an active hand in re-outing him as a sex offender?

Anonymous said...

Anybody know Pardue's credentials to teach journalism? Does she have any actual reporting experience?

RON DAVIS said...

Anon 236: In her resume, listed here, Pardue says:

I have 26 years of professional experience and have worked at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the Nashville Banner in Nashville, Tenn. I have experience as a reporter, columnist, assistant city editor, wire editor, copy editor, assistant neighbors editor and business editor.

Anonymous said...

touche.

Where is todays tit for tat between former NL reporters and editors?

Anonymous said...

I know several folks with 26+ years of working in newsrooms who have no business attempting to teach.

Possibly a more telling fact would involve why Perfesser Perdue left journalism for academia??

Anonymous said...

She probably left journalism because journalism sucks.

Desdinova said...

When I saw Ryan Cooper's name on the Community Free Press list of contributers I thought "I bet he was the one interviewing Greenwood Lab students." I should have called a bookie right then and put money on that.

Jacke M. said...

I would say that Pardue's response has less to do with Cooper as a JOURNALIST and more to do with Cooper being a STUDENT. If you really want to know why Pardue would not release information about Cooper, I would advise that you look into MSU's policy on students' privacy issues.

Anonymous said...

Pardue didn't have to address anything in regard to Cooper that would have put her afoul of the MSU privacy policy. She could have spoken generically about the expectations she places on her students, the ethics lessons she offers them (assuming she does?), and so on. Instead, she took the chicken's way out. The very wording of her non-response to Koehler suggests it's a good thing she's no longer attempting to commit journalism anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Was anything gained by this "outing" of Hendrix? Will Cooper out the gay state rep from Springfield too?

Anonymous said...

I should have guessed that Ron would write about this story. Of all the responses, I think yours was the most thoughtful. I do have to wonder why you dug up an attack site that was taken down over a year ago to discuss my political views.

I give credit to my wife for the idea for the story. She was watching "America's Most Wanted" during Spring Break and I was trying to come up with story ideas for class. Due to National Guard training in Guatemala, I would have to work early to get my assignments done before graduation.

John Walsh did a story about sex offenders, and my wife asked me to check the online database of ones living near my house. I was suprised to learn that sex offenders worked and attended Missouri State. From that point, I developed my story.

I wrote a state story with a local angle, focusing on the varying rules and regulations with regard to campus sex offenders. Like most of my stories, I wanted a human interest, someone interested in the issue. Who better to talk to than parents of Greenwood Lab students? They would have the most interest in this issue than anyone.

After talking to my second parent, Director Janice Duncan and an assistant tried to stop me from talking to anyone else. She said that I failed to follow school policy and had to vacate the premise. I reminded her that I was a student and had every right to be on campus. The First Amendment applies to Missouri State.

I've been told that she raised a fuss with Dr. Nietzel, saying that she has angry parents wanting answers. The first parent, Carla Kruse, was upset and probably called Duncan. The other parent knew about Hendrix and showed no suprise.

The rest is history. I have no animosity for Hendrix. We emailed twice after the first News-Leader story. He completely understood. As for Dr. Pardue, she was an excellent professor and tried to do what was right in the context of FERPA.

My politics played no role in this story or any that I've written for the Community Free Press. I take my job seriously, which is why I'm working for the Army Times this summer. Ron Davis and Steve Khoeller are both very liberal, yet no one is accusing them of bias in their news stories.

While I don't agree with your views on most subjects, I am impressed by your blog because it contains hard-to-find local information that's not available anywhere else. You do tend to jump to conclusions and assume motives (my politics) when none were present.

For the record, I started Missouri State Conservatives last fall, since the College Republican group was not active and students wanted to get involved in the election process. I stepped aside this Spring because of my graduation. I became the executive director of the group to help with campus paperwork. My involvement last semester was less of a leadership role and more of an advisor.

Those who know me know that I'm not a partisan person. I have liberal and conservative friends. My major issue is fairness. Conservatives shouldn't face discrimination at a liberal school like MSU anymore than liberals should be discriminated against at BYU. This sense of fairness is what made me want to be a reporter, to tell the stories not told of things relavant to the people of Springfield.

Anonymous said...

Very nicely done, nameless conservative journalist. But you might have missed one of the major tenets of journalism: Timeliness.

Anonymous said...

My story was timely since I broke it and the follow-up story about MU losing MOHELA funds for hiring a sex offender. My response on this blog wasn't, for the simple fact that I was busy graduating, working in Guatemala, and getting this internship in D.C.

Though I'm not registered, This is Ryan Cooper, so hopefully no one will pretend to be me on this blog. (I've seen it happen). While I appreciate your kind words, I'm not a conservative journalist, but an objective journalist who happens to have conservative views.

It's naive to think that journalists don't have opinions, because we are the most opinonated people on the planet. Being news junkies gives us more informed opinions on subjects than the average citizen.

It is our job and challenge to keep those opinions from tilting how we cover the news. I believe in keeping opinion separate from news, though trends in broadcast news show an increase in activism journalism through people like O'Reilly and Dobbs.

Many journalists have been active in politics, like Stephanopolous, Russert, Sawyer, Matthews, and others. Some thoughts to keep in mind the next time you think that someone in this field has a bias. Some do, but most don't.

Anonymous said...

Calm down, young conservative journalist who doesn't let his political leanings influence his work. You sure are wordy. (Another thing to consider if making journalism a career.)

Again, you write well and make excellent points! But from where I sit - was schooled -, it's best never to give up your private persuasions if a journalist.

And see how brief this is??? Maybe I should teach at MSU ...