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Column on crash ceremony draws criticism

Nov. 16, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Marshall University's student newspaper received a flood of negative reaction Thursday to a column which questioned the need for an annual ceremony commemorating the 1970 Marshall football plane crash.

The column that appeared on the opinion page in Thursday's edition of The Parthenon was written by Henry Culvyhouse, a junior who has a weekly column in the newspaper. The column touched on Wednesday's 42nd annual Memorial Fountain ceremony, which honors the 75 players, coaches and community members who died when a chartered DC-9 jetliner crashed Nov. 14, 1970, on its way back from a game at East Carolina.

"I watched yesterday's ceremony solemnly, reflecting on how such a tragedy must have felt to the community," Culvyhouse wrote in his column. "However, I wondered how long must a community be reminded of a tragedy. Forty-two years have passed since these young athletes died; why must we continue to be reminded? Or to put it more precisely, why must this display of pageantry continue?"

Sandy York, The Parthenon's faculty adviser, and Parthenon Executive Editor Shane Arrington said they received dozens of emails about Culvyhouse's column.A few readers said they understood Culvyhouse's point of view, while others took a threatening tone, York said. But an overwhelming majority of the respondents said the column and the decision to publish it on the heels of the anniversary of the plane crash were insensitive, Arrington said.

York said she was not aware of the column or that it had been published until she read it in the newspaper when she arrived on campus Thursday morning.

"I am just an adviser," York said. "I can give them my opinion, but I have no editorial control. It is a student-run newspaper.

"My personal opinion is that it is insensitive to the people who lost friends and family members in the plane crash and with the timing of it being the day after the ceremony, people really took it to heart. We have current members on the reporting staff who lost family members in the plane crash, and there's a lesson to be learned about knowing our whole audience. With that being said, if it had run two weeks from now, it wouldn't have gotten nearly the response it did (Thursday)."

Arrington said the newspaper's editorial staff chose to run Culveyhouse's column because he is a student.

"There's really no other decision-making process that went into it," Arrington said. "The moment I decide that a student's opinion should not be heard, it defeats the purpose of our opinion page and journalism in general, for that matter."

Arrington added, "I don't want to take away from the fact that I understand people are hurt by this. It's a very sensitive subject, and it's obvious people were personally affected. But just because something is offensive doesn't mean a side can't be told."

University officials declined to discuss the column in detail or whether there would be a review of The Parthenon's editorial policies.

"The fact that this year's ceremony was well-attended and that we've done this for 42 years speaks for itself," said Dave Wellman, director of communications.

Culvyhouse addressed the uproar to his column by appearing on the Insider Sportsline on 94.1 FM radio on Thursday afternoon. He said he realized after the column was published that he used "imprecise language" and drew comparisons to the annual ceremony that were unwarranted.

"I actually used a hammer when I should've used a scalpel," he said. "I thought I was using a scalpel. It was a complete and utter failure in precision on my part."

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