October 6, 1998
New York City

To the Editor:

The question asked in your review [Fall 1998] of the Robert D. Richards’ book “Freedom’s Choice” about the right of the editor vs. that of the publisher of a newspaper to publish a story concerns a private business—the newspaper. But rulings of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts regarding student editors’ rights in state-supported schools pose different legal issues.

Since taxpayers support these schools, not a private owner as in the case of The New York Times, different rules apply. A long line of decisions restricts the right of a university president to censor a college publication or to fire the editor. After Tinker (the case of two Des Moines students who wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam War and were suspended) the same freedom was applied to public high schools. But then Justice Bryon White came along in the Hazelwood case and changed that, so high school publications now can be censored except in a few states where legislatures have passed laws freeing public high school publications from censorship.

The Supreme Court decisions apply to taxpayer-supported schools, which means that Yale and Hood College can indeed censor—if they wish–their publications. The logic is that taxpayer money finances these publications, whereas the private sector schools finances theirs. Thus the public, not the university president, is the publisher. At Harvard, the Crimson is, I believe, a private corporation and thus not reached by these decisions. The Crimson is closer to The New York Times example you cite than The Daily Kansan at the University of Kansas.

Melvin Mencher
Nieman Fellow 1953

August 25, 1998
Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

David Hall [“Watchdog,” Spring 1998] could not be more correct in stating that journalists need to pay more attention to foundations. As a former newspaper reporter, editor and publisher, I can attest that the media have long paid too little attention to philanthropy in this country. The payoff for reporters will not, however, lie in uncovering cabals to hijack public policy, as Mr. Hall seems to fear. They will find instead an amazing trove of stories about people helping people, about the countless ways private philanthropy works to make our public life better. …

As institutions endowed, governed and staffed by citizens, existing to achieve an immense variety of charitable goals, foundations are integral to our democracy. Their voices should be heard. While foundations should avoid at all costs being co-opted by any politician’s agenda, many politicians might radically improve their programs by making use of the knowledge and research that foundations have available. Foundations can, and do, interact with policymakers in beneficial ways that have nothing to do with political gain.

The public interest indeed requires that “foundations get regular, more sophisticated coverage from local, regional and national newspapers.” I hate to disappoint Mr. Hall, but I don’t think such examination will cause as much “wounded consternation” among foundations as he foresees. While stronger relationships between foundations and the media will take time to build, responsible grantmakers are ready to try. They know the public has little understanding of the role of foundations and the value of philanthropy in American life. They are more than ready to tell their stories.

Dorothy S. Ridings
President and CEO
Council on Foundations

October, 1998

To the Editor:

Contrary to the remarks of Philip Cunningham in the discussion on nonprofit organizations [Fall 1998], Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China are separate organizations, separately incorporated, separately funded, and separately staffed. Human Rights in China rented space from Human Rights Watch through the end of 1997; even that tie no longer exists. Mr. Bernstein is the founder, former chair, and current board member of Human Rights Watch; he sits on the board of Human Rights in China, but has no other relationship to it.

Sidney Jones
Executive Director, Asia Division
Human Rights Watch

October 1998
New York

To the Editor:

I am disturbed by the deceptive information published about Human Rights in China by the Nieman Reports, Fall 1998, p. 43, in an interview with Mr. Philip Cunningham.

Allow me to point out several factual errors.

Since its inception in March 1989, Human Rights in China has been an independent organization. It is not and has never been part of Human Rights Watch.

Mr. Robert Bernstein is one of the board members of Human Rights in China, along with 42 other Chinese and non-Chinese scholars and human rights advocates. Human Rights in China is chaired by Mr. Liu Qing, a former prisoner of conscience who spent 10 years in Chinese prisons for advocating democracy and human rights.

In spite of these factual errors, Mr. Cunningham is very familiar with our organization. He visited the offices of Human Rights in China four years ago and even published an interview in our quarterly journal China Rights Forum. Most recently, in 1997, he attended a press conference jointly organized by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Human Rights in China. It is not the first time that Mr. Cunningham deliberately circulates inaccurate information about Human Rights in China, he has already done so through the Internet. In my view, his comments are closer to libel than objective journalism, and they should not have a place in a publication like the Nieman Reports.

We would be happy to provide you with further information about our organization and our work.

Thank you for publishing this letter in your next issue of the Nieman Reports.

Xiao Qiang
Executive Director
Human Rights in China

Philip Cunningham responds:

November 1998

Human Rights in China (HRIC), as Sydney Jones admits, until very recently shared office space in the Fifth Avenue office of Human Rights Watch (HRW). It was also created under the supervision of founder and funder Bob Bernstein, the former CEO of Random House and a prominent anti-Communist activist, who was also HRW’s key founding patron.

In HRIC’s promotional materials, the organization refers to itself as a “Chinese organization…founded by Chinese,” however, two of the four names that appear on their tax record are not Chinese; its nonprofit tax filing also makes the incredible claim that the lion’s share of their operating income comes from China Rights Forum, a quarterly publication they produce and distribute largely for free. I received a free copy for years.

Xiao Qiang’s letter mystifies me: What inaccuracy is he talking about? He never mentions one.

Jones’s letter is helpful in that it confirms Mr. Bernstein’s funding and founding involvement: That was one of the points I was trying to make. She asserts that HRIC is independent, but that is a judgment call, and certainly is not supported by their Form 990 tax documents. HRW is the more respectable of the two organizations, so it makes sense for a respected human rights advocate like Jones to distance herself from HRIC. But to say a HRW board member Bernstein has “no other relationship” to an organization he funded and founded makes little sense. Former political prisoner Liu Qing himself told me that Bernstein paid his expenses when I visited him at the HRW-HRIC joint office in April 1994 and I have no reason to doubt his word on this.

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