Let it be known that there is no doubt that Daily Lobo data editor Joe Rull could quite easily “break the ankles” of any student government representative, for Rull is an absolute beast in the post, his footwork is immaculate and he knows every move in the book.
In addition to reaffirming our data editor’s skills on the court, we must also make clear that when the University of New Mexico Dean of Students, Nasha Torrez, violated the First Amendment rights of a member of the student newspaper, she violated the rights of the newspaper as a whole.
On Oct. 28, Torrez issued “No Contact Directives” both to Rull and former ASUNM Senator and biochemistry student Selina Montoya regarding Student Fee Review Board member Sall Ahmadian. This order prohibits Rull from not only contacting Ahmadian, but from reporting on Ahmadian — including on social media as well as print and online publications — for two years.
“Communication between Sall Ahmadian and Joseph Rull Mioduszewski is prohibited in any form including but not limited to: in person; in writing; via gesture; over the phone; online; through text message; through email; on social media or networking sites; through a third party; or to a third party with intent to harass, harm, humiliate or otherwise portray negatively the other party,” the directive stated.
In order to fully understand the circumstances that led to this egregious miscalculation in judgment on the part of the University, allow us to provide the backstory.
In July, Rull reported on ASUNM President Mia Amin’s refusal to sign a Black Lives Matter resolution that the undergraduate student government passed on a 13-5-2 vote — a story that Amin hasn’t forgotten.
Fast forward to Oct. 24-25, when the Student Fee Review Board convened to deliberate the merits of the programs that had applied for 2021-22 student activity fee funding.
During these deliberations, English and political science major Ahmadian — Amin’s SFRB appointee — made a series of ill-informed statements about Student Publications’ funding request.
On the morning of Oct. 24, Daily Lobo sports-turned-government reporter Jesus Mata live-tweeted the following quotes as part of his assignment to cover the public deliberation.
"I'm concerned that some students might be gaming the system and not taking a staff role or a stipend role,” Mata reported SFRB undergraduate member Ahmadian as saying. “Then just doing it by article and pumping out articles."
This is a ridiculous assertion, as it often takes days for a student reporter to complete an assignment, and the final product is compensated at a meager $16-$20 an article. The few remaining staff and “stipend” roles are better compensated but aren’t tied to any specific deliverables, evidencing Ahmadian’s ignorance on the subject.
Ahmadian’s next move was to recommend that the board “put a cap on maybe, five articles a semester per student ... Whatever you guys think (is) a number that is more appropriate. I don't know how many articles these people pump out."
When a member of the government asserts putting a “cap” on the number of stories a reporter writes, they are not only being illogical — like capping the number of baskets a star basketball player is allowed to make in a game — they are proposing an infringement on the constitutionally protected freedom of the press.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who served from 1958 to 1981, argued “that the First Amendment speaks separately of freedom of speech and freedom of the press is no constitutional accident, but an acknowledgment of the critical role played by the press in American society.”
In response to Ahmadian’s public comments, staff writers and alumni of the Daily Lobo and members of the community responded on social media with pointed commentary.
One of the responses to Ahmadian’s statements came from Rull, who challenged Ahmadian to a basketball game in response to his assertion that Lobo reporters were “gaming the system” by writing multiple news stories. The tweet read:
“SALL AHMADIAN PLAY ME 1 ON 1 GAME TO 21 I WANT TO PERSONALLY BREAK YOUR ANKLES.”
In addition, Montoya tweeted, “Sall Ahmadian is a peepee poopoo head pass it on,” and went on to say “this type of rhetoric not only comes off as ignorant but is such a slap in the face for Daily Lobo reporters who pour their heart and soul into stories they barely get a dime for.”
A few people watching the unfolding drama took to notifying New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich that one of his interns (Ahmadian) was publicly attempting to use his power as a SFRB member to propose a limit on the freedom of the press.
When the SFRB reconvened after their lunch break later that day, Ahmadian told the Zoom attendees — including the Daily Lobo reporter on the call — that he was aware that his comments were “trending on Twitter” and issued a public rebuke directed toward anyone, but specifically those affiliated with the Daily Lobo, who had contacted Sen. Heinrich.
After the day’s deliberations, Ahmadian and Amin remained on the Zoom call, and Ahmadian joked about how he would “need a press team” after his earlier comments were amplified on Twitter.
On Oct. 25, the SFRB reconvened for their final day of deliberations and ultimately decided to fund Student Publications at a rate of $65,000. Though the funding was $20,000 less than they had requested, the amount was more than $50,000 than the Daily Lobo, Limina and Conceptions Southwest had received the year before.
That evening Amin, Ahmadian and ASUNM Senator Ricardo Hill informed the Daily Lobo via email at 8:34 p.m. that they would be arriving at the newsroom within 30 minutes in order to “listen and learn” while the editors prepared the now-weekly paper for print. Upon arrival, Amin, Ahmadian and Hill voiced their concerns, including reading aloud the tweets that had been posted by some of the Daily Lobo staff and members of the community, specifically highlighting Rull’s and Montoya’s tweets.
In response to these complaints, Rull posted a video to Twitter the following day that further espoused his abilities to easily vanquish Ahmadian in a game of pickup hoops, noting his prowess as a two-way superstar.
This tweet used sarcasm and wit to further push back on the SFRB board member’s comments and explained the meaning of the basketball term to “break someone’s ankles,” which is a figure of speech and not a physical threat.
What happened next catapulted the issue from an internal squabble about funding and the value of journalism to a constitutional breach of the Daily Lobo’s right to hold government figures accountable.
Dean of Students Torrez sent No Contact Directives to both Rull and Montoya, in an act that both perverted the intent of such directives — which were created as a part of Title IX as a way to provide some protection for victims of sexual harassment — but also crossed the line from speculating about infringing on the protections afforded to the press by the U.S. Constitution to actually doing it.
On Oct. 31, Ahmadian sent a letter to the Daily Lobo asserting that he didn’t request the no-contact order and that the dean of students acted on her own accord.
This is in direct contrast to Ahmadian’s words from the night of Oct. 25, in which he said, “I’ve already spoken to the vice president (sic) of UNM, I’ve already spoken to the dean of students. That will be taken care of. And I don’t apologize for that.”
The Daily Lobo is gravely concerned that a tool designed to protect students who are victims of sexual harassment and assault is being used as a weapon by the UNM administration to retaliate against, intimidate and censor a student reporter.
We are also committed to upholding the rights of the press to hold elected representatives accountable, and our right to provide editorial commentary about these same individuals.
To borrow a sentiment from Washington Post editor Ben Bagdikian, “The only way to assert the right to publish, is to publish.” We give you our word we will do our best to cover this story until its conclusion. We also commit to retain legal representation and to ensure these rights are protected by the court system.
We have assigned reporters to this story and are looking forward to reading the public documents and email correspondence that facilitated this intervention. Did it follow the same process that other no-contact directives have followed? Did the administration favor Ahmadian in any way, and did they seek legal advice before issuing the gag order? How do they intend to enforce the directive, and will they expel Rull (and the rest of the Daily Lobo editorial staff) if we continue to cover ASUNM and report on the actions they take and the words they say?
These questions and others will be answered, and you can count on that just as sure as you can count on the Daily Lobo’s data editor being simultaneously an unstoppable force and an immovable object in the lane.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found is the freedom of the press.”
We are not student journalists: rather, we are journalists who happen to be students. Our highest objective is to leave open all avenues to truth, and we will continue doing what we have always done — report the news with zero tolerance for censorship and without fear of reprisals.
The Daily Lobo Editorial Staff