May 20, 2003


New York Times reporter Chris Hedges was booed off the stage Saturday at Rockford College’s graduation because he gave an antiwar speech.

Two days later, graduates and family members, envisioning a “go out and make your mark” send-off, are still reeling.

Guests wanting to hear the author and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter are equally appalled.

And College President Paul Pribbenow is rethinking the wisdom of such controversial topics at future commencements. This is Pribbenow’s first graduation.

Hedges began his abbreviated 18-minute speech comparing United States’ policy in Iraq to piranhas and a tyranny over the weak. . . .

Some graduates and audience members turned their backs to the speaker in silent protest. Others rushed up the aisle to vocally protest the remarks, and one student tossed his cap and gown to the stage before leaving.

More crushing of dissent in Ashcroft's America, I suppose. Except that I imagine that Hedges was paid a lot to give that speech. He misjudged the audience dreadfully, offended them terribly, and reaped an honest audience reaction.

There are two possibilities: (1) He had no idea the audience would object, which suggests a tin ear that calls his journalistic abilities into question; or (2) he knew they'd hate the speech and didn't care, which makes him, well, a jerk.

UPDATE: I think it's "pariahs," not "piranhas," -- TimesWatch has a partial transcript. It's a pretty offensive speech ("This is a war of liberation in Iraq, but it is a war now of liberation of Iraqis from American occupation"), though TimesWatch also notes that Rockford College should have known what it was getting into with Hedges, who's on record as thinking that it's a good thing we lost in Vietnam, yada yada yada.

I think the notion of a lefty speaker being booed off the stage at a college campus is messing with some people's minds. But all I can say is don't criticize what you can't understand, your sons and your daughter are beyond your command, and the times -- though, seemingly, not The Times -- they are a'changin'. Heck, they walked out on Phil Donahues's commencement speech.

TimesWatch also asks, amusingly:

A few days ago the Times saw fit to run a captioned photograph of graduates walking out in protest of Republican Sen. Rick Santorum’s commencement address at Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University. Will the Times consider Hedges’ hostile reception equally newsworthy?

About as likely as their giving front-page treatment to CNN's video fakery.

But Hedges is more proof that claims that The New York Times is a congenial place for people who take the anti-American side aren't just blather.