Photo by Rebecca WolfAt Richard Nixon's alma mater Whittier College, they really believe in tradition. On good days, that means rosy relations with Chinese exchange students. On bad days—and in what may be a first in privacy violations—they find a secret listening device hidden in the student newspaper offices.
"It's just too insane to even think about," says Quaker Campus junior editor in chief Amy Stice.
Stice says the bug was discovered when the newspaper's balky light table finally quit working. Maintenance staff traced the problem to the electrical outlet next to the editor's desk—more specifically, to the microphone and transmitter soldered to the back of the outlet faceplate.
According to the guy at the Security and Spy Outlet Store in Puente Hills (contacted by the paper's intrepid managing editor, Rebecca Wolf), the bug had burned out some time before discovery, would have been functional for about a year after installation, and could have been monitored live or taped with an FM receiver.
And based on close examination of the electrical outlet in question, police say the bug could have been installed any time during the past 11 to 13 years. That means there are a lot of Whittier alumni, including this reporter (Quaker Campus staffer from 1996 to 1999) who might be a little nervous right now—and since he wasn't dead and buried until 1994, that means ol' Tricky Dick (class of '34) could be considered a suspect.
"He had a history of unsavory tricks long before Watergate," says Dr. Gary Libman, faculty adviser to the Quaker Campus. "But I've never read that he practiced any of them on campus. It's kind of creepy to think about it—that someone would do this."
And that brings us to the big question—who? At first, it was just the sort of irony student journalists relish: the first tapped college newspaper in possibly ever, and it's at recording aficionado Richard Nixon's old school? It practically mocks itself. "Anyone feel distrustful?" Stice cheerfully yelled with one hand over the receiver when we asked about staff reaction. "Anyone?" And when we called The Chronicle, the student newspaper of Duke University—Nixon's graduate alma mater—they naturally laughed at our suggestion that they check for bugs in their office. "It's not something we're terribly concerned about," said editor Ambika Kumar.
But now the story's picking up momentum. Thanks to a high-profile Drudge Report link on Feb. 28 and the irresistible chance to kick Dick Nixon around one more time, everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Janemagazine and Fox 11 News ("And we're not even a high-speed chase!" gushed one flattered staffer) is calling the Quaker Campus newsroom. And they all wanna know: Who would have any reason to do this?
Private investigator Thomas Barnes, signed on by the student body president after lax Whittier Police response, is looking crooked at the college administration. Administrators and campus safety suggest that a lone nut ex-boyfriend or -girlfriend might have wanted to keep an ear on things in the office. "Everyone in the administration was very concerned," said college president Katherine Haley Will. "Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are very dear to the students, faculty and administration at Whittier."
Libman worries that it's the same person who stole approximately 1,200 copies of the paper—nearly the entire press run—off the stands 15 months ago. And Quaker Campus staffers concede that anyone's a suspect—as well as wonder who got taped making out on the couches in that corner.
"We don't have any secrets," Stice says. "People just think we do—a lot of people are threatened by our presence. But it's really just a lot of talk about booty."