Editor's note: In celebration of The Daily Tar Heel's 125th birthday, we are running excerpts from "Print News and Raise Hell" by Kenneth Joel Zogry. This excerpt is from pages 225-226 and 229-231. Books can be purchased via UNC Press.
In the span of a decade, the civil rights movement, the Speaker Ban Law, the sexual revolution, the rise of Black Power, the food workers’ strike, and the war in Vietnam all served to liberalize and radicalize significant numbers of UNC students, mirroring a similar transformation on college campuses across America. The Daily Tar Heel also became increasingly radicalized during the era, though most editors strove to provide a forum for all points of view. Quoting a nineteenth-century Chicago newspaper editor (and often repeated by former Tar Heel editor Walter Spearman, then teaching in the UNC School of Journalism), the masthead of the 1966 summer edition of the paper announced: “The job of a newspaper is to print news and raise hell.”
By the late 1960s, however, a conservative political movement represented by a new coalition within the Republican Party began to rise in prominence and push back against the liberal agenda. Following national violence triggered by racial unrest and antiwar demonstrations, Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968— only the second Republican to occupy the office since 1933. His campaign used slogans such as restoring “law and order” to what many conservatives saw as a society that had lost its moral bearings, and Nixon called his constituency America’s “silent majority.” In the South, where conservative white Democrats who felt betrayed by the pro–civil rights agenda of the national party were rapidly switching political affiliation, another group joined the fold: Christian fundamentalists. Soon to be labeled the Religious Right, these new Republicans focused on social and moral issues such as school prayer and abortion.
Despite UNC’s reputation as a bastion of liberalism, much of the student body and larger university community remained moderate to conservative throughout the 1960s. By the end of the decade, the political Right was well organized and energized by what was happening in the South and across the nation, and it actively opposed radical groups and initiatives on campus. The Daily Tar Heel, seen as a principal offender, was soon the target of this new conservative movement. Morality became the new Communism, as the battleground on which the Religious Right chose to attack liberalism became cultural as much as political. With witch hunts for closeted Reds passé, and attempts to maintain racial segregation a lost cause, the Right turned to stamping out what it defined as social permissiveness, including the breakdown of “traditional” values and the moral laxity brought about by the sexual revolution. Significantly, this marked the beginning of a difficult period for the Daily Tar Heel: a quarter-century of outside pressure and internal analysis that would eventually become a contributing cause of the paper’s separation from the university in 1993. In the 1950s, students and others angry over the paper’s editorial policies attempted to correct the situation by cutting off its proverbial head through special campus recall elections of the editor. By the late 1960s, many conservatives saw the paper as unfixable, rotten to the core, and beginning in 1969 a variety of attempts were made to greatly weaken its influence, if not shut it down entirely.