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CASEY: Six possible reasons why Radford U student newspapers disappeared

We still have no idea why 1,000 copies of The Tartan were taken, or where they could have ended up. The possibilities as to motive and use seem endless.

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A rack offers a recent edition in October of The Tartan at Radford University.

One thing we’ve heard loudly and clearly from Radford University is that its administrators had nothing to do with the mysterious disappearance of student newspapers back in September, when roughly 1,000 copies of The Tartan vanished.

That happened the night of Sept. 18 or the morning of Sept. 19. The Roanoke Times’ first article about it appeared Sept. 27. That quoted an email by a university spokeswoman: “The University … did not orchestrate and/or participate in the removal of any newspapers.”

After a seven-week investigation by campus police, we know a little bit more.

n An unidentified classified employee admitted removing the free newspapers from four of 22 racks, but not from the other 18 where copies also disappeared. Video from the latter locations was not retained.

n The paper-pinching employee’s motive remains unknown. But he or she told police they did not act at the direction of other “individuals.”

Since then, I’ve been wracking my brain for reasons why the employee would steal the papers on his or her own initiative, and what could have happened to them. The university hasn’t disclosed that, either.

The possibilities are many and varied. Let’s imagine some:

1. For the aviary. At home, the newspaper-napper has a huge collection of exotic birds, such as rainbow lorikeets, Spix’s macaws, California condors, quetzals, hoopoes and so on. He simply needed a large supply of papers to line those cages.

And it was far safer to filch student papers, which apparently can never be considered “stolen” because they’re distributed free. Copies of The Roanoke Times, on the other hand, go for $2 apiece.

2. Interior home redecorating. The penny-pinching paper pilferer was too parsimonious to purchase protective plastic sheeting for a home painting project. So he used the Tartans instead of a drop cloth. People make use of newspapers that way all the time.

3. The Radford High School homecoming. We know the Radford Bobcats beat Gretna Sept. 20 in a 21-20 nail-biter of a football game. Was there also a pregame homecoming parade? In this scenario, the paper-purloiner had a son or daughter helping prepare a float for that parade. The kids ran out of newspapers while creating a huge, papier-mache Bobcat. And the parent decided to help out by taking copies of The Tartan.

4. Moonlighting. Somewhere in the mountainous Radford/Fairlawn/Christiansburg area is a fresh fish market whose owners needed wrappers for their goods. The market hired a university classified employee to supply them, and he lifted copies of The Tartan from his day job.

Everybody knows that newspapers are perfect fishwrappers. And many will agree that — aside from lining bird cages, fashioning papier-mache sculptures or substituting as drop cloths — wrapping fish is a newspaper’s best and highest possible use.

5. Roger Stone. The infamous political trickster has been doing dirty deeds for nearly half a century, all the way back to the Watergate scandal. Friday, a jury in Washington convicted him of seven federal crimes stemming from lies Stone told Congress about his actions as an informal adviser to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

Isn’t it at least possible that Stone, given his history, engineered The Tartan-taking? Under this theory, he correctly forecast the Washington Post would publish at least two stories and one editorial on the subject and those would help distract its reporters from writing about Stone’s exploits with Trump in 2016.

6. Sarah Palin engineered it. This is the most complicated theory, and it goes way back to the 2008 presidential campaign. Remember the interview Katie Couric did with then-vice presidential candidate Palin? It went horribly awry.

Couric tricked Palin with an outrageously liberal and slanted question about which newspapers Palin reads regularly. The former Alaska governor drew a complete blank. She couldn’t name one, which caused howls of laughter across the country and a huge embarrassment for her and John McCain, the late senator who topped the Republican ticket that year.

Anyway, it’s at least possible that Palin heard Radford University was paying Couric $195,000 (from private donations and university activity fees) to speak at a campus event the day The Tartan vanished. So Palin embarked on a revenge scheme to embarrass Couric back.

First, Palin paid someone to remove The Tartan from campus news racks Couric might encounter during her visit. Next, Palin paid someone else to attend Couric’s talk. The second guy was supposed to ask Couric for her opinion of The Tartan.

Couric would draw a blank on the question and appear confused because she didn’t see any student newspapers on Radford’s campus — because they were already gone. Thus, Couric would look stupid.

One flaw with this theory is that nobody popped such a question to Couric. But it’s also possible the intended questioner took Palin’s money, skipped the event and got drunk instead.

If this theory sounds highly improbable and totally cockamamie, keep in mind that it does involve Sarah Palin.

So there you have six possibilities as to why the papers were taken from four Radford news racks and where they ended up.

None of the above, of course, goes to explain who took The Tartans that disappeared from the other 18 racks.

I have a theory, though: Aliens from the planet Zoltar, arriving on campus via an invisible UFO, stole those papers.

Have you heard a better explanation?


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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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