Brown’s annual Sex Power God tradition made national news Monday night when Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” aired footage of Saturday’s party taped by a producer who attended the Queer Alliance event but did not identify himself at the time.
The Fox News Web site described the segment as an investigation into “the party Brown University doesn’t want YOU to know about!”
Between images of grinding undergrads in their underwear, producer Jesse Watters de-scribed the event as “pure debauchery.”
Watters, who told O’Reilly during the segment that he bought his ticket for $80 off the Internet, said he heard students having sex in the bathroom stall next to him and saw others having sex behind the DJ booth.
Watters said he observed “guys kissing guys and girls making out with girls.”
“It was the wildest party I’d ever been to,” he added.
“Girls were falling down drunk all over the place,” Watters said. The segment referenced Herald reports that a record number of people needed Emergency Medical Services this year and referred to Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services David Greene’s letter to undergraduates an-nouncing a review of policies regarding student-run parties on campus.
O’Reilly argued that it was inappropriate for Brown to use University property and the “$100 student government fee” – actually a $136 per year student activities fee – for a party in which many students got hurt. “I’m sure there are a lot of students who don’t want their money to go to this,” he said.
In fact, no University money went toward the event, said Undergraduate Finance Board Chair Swathi Bojedla ’07. Instead, Queer Alliance paid for the event with funds it had raised, she said.
O’Reilly emphasized that he objected to Brown condoning the event, not students’ behavior. “We don’t care … what these kids do in their personal lives. Don’t care. But, if the school’s going to charge people 100 bucks and put that into a big fund and then use some of that money and a school building to have this kind of stuff, and then have all these kids get hurt ’cause a lot of them were taking ecstasy and those kinds of drugs … then the school bears responsibility,” he said.
“I think the chancellor has to answer for it,” he added. “Brown University needs to rethink the whole thing.”
O’Reilly began the segment on the “prestigious” and “highly regarded Ivy League school” by saying the footage of the event was “not for kids. Either turn the thing off if the kids are there or chuck ‘em out of the room.”
The majority of the footage was shot toward the end of the night when the lights in Sayles Hall were turned on, making it easy to recognize students’ faces amid the presidential portraits that line the room. Another shot showed a student, clad only in a red drinking cup, entering an EMS truck.
One student who appeared in the producer’s footage and wished to remain anonymous said she found it “incredibly offensive” that Fox News videotaped and aired images of her without her permission.
“I am a student now but I will one day be a professional,” she said. “I never thought that going to such a social function would have such jeopardizing consequences for me.”
She said she noticed Watters – a white male wearing a black sweatshirt and carrying a handheld camcorder – at one point, but since so many students had their cameras, she said it did not occur to her to say anything at the time.
Herald photographer Oliver Schulze ’08 said he noticed Watters videotaping in the corner, dressed in “street clothes.” Schulze decided to shoot video of the older man with his personal digital camera.
Monica Skeldon ’06, who was shown briefly as Watters described same-sex kissing, said she felt “a little violated” that she was taped without her knowledge.
Mark Tumiski ’08, who was also pictured on the show, said he was offended by the segment, particularly by comments that he felt implied that what O’Reilly called the party’s “out of control” atmosphere stemmed from the Queer Alliance’s sponsorship of the event.
When O’Reilly asked if the majority of attendees were gay, Watters said most were heterosexual, but added, “I think the core group that hosted the event was gay. That kind of set the tone for the rest of the party.”
Tumiski said he was upset that his image was shown on television without his permission. “They didn’t have to show our faces. I thought that was unnecessary,” he said.
He said he sent an e-mail to Fox News and “The O’Reilly Factor” claiming that they violated “some serious ethical conduct and possibly some legal conduct.”
Prior to the show’s airing, Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations Michael Chapman told The Herald that Brown had not had any negotiations with Fox News or “The O’Reilly Factor.”
“Brown is a private institution and we do not allow the media into University buildings without our permission. Fox did not ask for our permission and we therefore did not give them our permission,” he said.
Because Sex Power God was held in “a public space,” “The O’Reilly Factor” did not break any laws by taping inside the event and then airing the footage, according to Adam Thermos, founder of a security consulting firm based in Milford, Mass.
“If it’s a public space, then there’s no presumption of privacy there,” Thermos said.
However, if footage is being used “explicitly for commercial purposes,” people on the film must release authorization, he said.
This rule would apply in cases like bystanders in a commercial at Disney World, but not in the case of media organizations, Thermos said.
Representatives of Fox News, Brown News Service Director Mark Nickel and Queer Alliance Co-Chair Josh Teitelbaum ’08 all declined to comment Monday.