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Ward Churchill Butts Heads With a Reporter

What started as a simple class visit has now resulted in an arrest warrant.

Dillabaugh didn't respond to interview requests, and he's hardly alone. Urie deferred to his superiors at the Camera, who have effectively muzzled him — an extremely dubious stance given the themes of free speech and open access at the heart of this matter. City editor Matt Sebastian did issue a brief statement that concludes, "We fully support a journalist's right to do his job without being physically harmed for asking a simple question."

As for photographer Lawton, he apparently didn't get the memo about clamming up, and his account of the Churchill episode couldn't be more different from Whitmer's. Lawton says he and Urie were scrupulously polite with Churchill, even when the prof "made some snide remarks about the Camera and its supposed bias issues"; Churchill singled out Lawton, who'd angered him a couple of years back by taking a snapshot in one of his classes. Later, Lawton goes on, Urie asked the three men described by Whitmer as young Republicans to take in his recorder, only to learn afterward that this was forbidden. The Camera twosome consequently hunkered down to wait until the lecture wrapped up in the hopes of chatting with departing students — but the plan changed when Lawton looked through the door's window and saw the Campus Press reps.

Lawton says Urie stepped approximately two feet through the doorway to ask why the Press reporters were inside while he was outside. "That's when they corralled him," Lawton maintains. "They started grabbing Heath's notes, and then [Dillabaugh] grabbed Heath's arm and tried to drag him out of there. Heath said, 'Don't touch me!,' and then we walked out." He insists that there was no barging, no yelling, nothing out of bounds. "We weren't overly aggressive," he says. "If we'd been overly aggressive, we would have gone in the classroom from the get-go, not waited in the hallway."

Such claims are "an absolute joke," says Whitmer, who calls Urie "a lying little punk." He also brands Camera managers as hypocrites for not running a letter he wrote on the topic in either its print edition or an online blog that pledges to "publish all of the appropriate letters" the paper receives, "in the spirit of openness." When asked via e-mail about the letter on October 11, Clint Talbott, the Camera's editorial-page editor, responded that it had been omitted because of miscommunication between him and the blog overseer. Before long, Whitmer's screed appeared above a comment by Talbott that reads, "The Camera disputes this version of events and stands by its reporting."

Should it? Ken Bonetti, a CU staff member who sat in on the class, doesn't think so — but he's a longtime Churchill backer. The Campus Press's Musick, a CU sophomore, is a more objective observer, and his recollections differ from those offered by either Whitmer or Lawton. Musick says Urie didn't come into the classroom "trying to make a scene" and confirms that he was only a few feet inside the room when Whitmer and Dillabaugh converged on him, although he thinks the reporter struggled a bit before splitting. Nonetheless, he's critical of Urie for putting himself in the position of becoming the story rather than simply covering it. "Once he stepped forward into the classroom," Musick says, "he crossed the line."

That seems to happen a lot when Churchill's around.

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