Intellectual Freedom

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  • Conservative media misinformation leads to violent threats against professors

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The conservative media misinformation cycle is increasingly targeting college professors for engaging in what they call anti-white rhetoric. Some conservative advocacy groups and right-wing and conservative media are working together to produce fake news about professors, leading to threats, intimidation, and campus shutdowns.

    Several articles published in the past week in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed trace the path of misinformation as it moves through the conservative media ecosystem. The Chronicle notes: “Whether true or trumped up, tales of liberal faculty espousing tone-deaf or noxious views are good business for the network of conservative media outlets that purport to document the leftward drift of higher education.” The process often starts with Campus Reform, a website where conservative college students write about perceived liberal bias on campus.

    The Chronicle reports that “Campus Reform’s pieces are often stamped with the hallmarks of nonpartisan journalism” but that they are packaged with sensational headlines and generally fail to place professors’ comments in context. These stories are picked up by right-wing “longstanding industry leaders” such as “The National Review and edgier newcomers like Heat Street and The Blaze,” which then further skew the original stories in ways intended to resonate with their conservative audience. After bouncing around right-wing media, the stories may be picked up by more mainstream conservative media outlets such as Fox News. By this time the story often bears only a superficial resemblance to reality. The result of these right-wing media campaigns has sometimes been an outpouring of abuse and threats against the professors. Recent instances have resulted in one campus closing down, universities asking professors to take a leave from campus, and a professor moving to protect his family.

    For instance, one of the many examples the Chronicle documented was the case of Trinity College professor Johnny Eric Williams. On June 18, Williams published a series of Facebook posts on race and policing. He shared a controversial article titled “Let Them Fucking Die” that referenced the shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise (LA-R).

    Campus Reform quickly wrote an article about Williams’ social network posts with the headline “Prof calls whites ‘inhuman assholes,’ says ‘let them die.’” The Blaze and The Daily Caller picked up the Campus Reform piece and wrote articles titled “College professor to blacks, other minorities: Let white people ‘f***ing die’” and “Professor Calls White People Inhuman,” respectively.

    On June 21, The Washington Times followed with an article based on these three pieces titled “Trinity College professor calls white people ‘inhuman’: ‘Let them f-ing die.’” Finally, Fox News published an article the same day titled “Professor’s profane, anti-white messages cause campus controversy.” Williams also issued a statement on June 21, defending his position: “It is evident to anyone who carefully reads my posts on Facebook and Twitter that I did not call for the death of all self-identified ‘whites,’” he said. He called the coverage a “provocative move to get readers to pay attention to my reasoned, reasonable, and yes angry argument.” But by then, the cycle was complete and the campus was temporarily shut down due to a multitude of violent threats.

    Trinity College eventually placed Williams on leave. Williams told the media that this was not his idea; the Hartford Courant quoted him saying, “They said it was in the interest of the college, primarily in their interest, not in my interest.”

    Media Matters has documented an extensive network of conservative and right-wing funders, advocacy organizations, and media organizations that work together to generate a toxic culture of harassment and intimidation. Campus Reform plays a critical role in this nexus by providing stories about college campuses. Campus Reform is also intimately connected to Professor Watchlist, another right-wing campus group that targets college professors and asks site visitors to “submit a tip” about professors who “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Campus Reform is the primary documentary source that Professor Watchlist links to to substantiate professors’ purported anti-conservative discrimination. Two of the professors profiled in the recent Chronicle stories, Tommy Curry and Johnny Eric Williams, are also profiled on Professor Watchlist. Professor Watchlist currently lists 216 professors, complete with pictures, brief summaries of their alleged offenses, and links to stories of dubious quality detailing these offenses.

    Inside Higher Ed reports that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) “is definitely concerned about this trend” of professor intimidation. The article notes that some universities have offered “mixed responses” to professors in the wake of threats and intimidation. Universities have also censored, fired, or put on leave some professors, like Williams, who are targeted by these dishonest campaigns. They have also tried to cancel, or rename controversial courses that draw attention of the far right.

    Universities that fail to protect professors against the dishonest misinformation campaigns of conservative media are complicit in the rise in violent right-wing rhetoric on college campuses. A statement from AAUP, reported by the Chronicle, highlights the risk: “Threatening messages are likely to stifle free expression and cause faculty and others on campus to self-censor so as to avoid being subjected to similar treatment.” The conservative media that create the environment for these threats -- and the mainstream media outlets that fail to aggressively counter this misinformation -- are also at fault in creating less safe and less open universities.

  • Meet Charlie Kirk, The “Boy Wonder” Trump Ally Behind A Poorly Sourced McCarthy-Like Watchlist Of Professors

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    A new website called Professor Watchlist is soliciting “tips” to help publicly “expose and document” college professors who “advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” The conservative group Turning Point USA, led by frequent Fox News guest and former Breitbart.com contributor Charlie Kirk, is behind the site.

    Professor Watchlist, which launched on November 21, encourages visitors to “submit a tip” to report professors who “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” (The website originally also solicited reports of professors who “promote anti-American values,” but that language has since been deleted.) The submission form allows visitors to identify professors by name and school, and to submit evidence of perceived bias discovered via “Article/News Report,” “1st Hand Experience,” or simply “Word of Mouth.” It also allows visitors to share optional “Video/Photo Evidence” of alleged transgressions. The site’s “About Us” page notes that it will “only publish profiles on incidents that have already been reported somewhere else,” though it does not provide further information on the quality of previous reporting required or the overall vetting process.

    As of noon on December 1, the site lists 143 professors by name, including photos of the allegedly biased educators, brief details of reported incidents that have warranted their inclusion on the site, and links to “source(s)” that reported the incidents. Of these 143 entries, right-wing student reporter website Campus Reform, operated by the conservative activist training group the Leadership Institute, served as the singular “source” for 75. The conservative student blog The College Fix sourced 10 entries, and the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant David Horowitz Freedom Center’s website DiscoverTheNetworks, which often cites white nationalist groups, accounted for another 12. Other sources included Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, FoxNews.com posts, and edited “undercover” videos from conservative activist James O’Keefe’s discredited group Project Veritas. (Even Bill O’Reilly expressed some concern about the legitimacy of these “third-party” reports in a recent interview with Kirk.)

    Kirk’s Professor Watchlist site mimics the M.O. of other “citizen journalist” vigilantes of the far-right, like O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, by promoting “tips” from the public with little accountability for the truth, yet potential real consequences for those caught in the crossfire.

    In fact, O’Keefe was invited to attend the final presidential debate courtesy of Kirk and Turning Point USA. Last year, O’Keefe spoke about “gorilla journalism” (sic) at a Turning Point USA event in West Palm Beach, FL, and Professor Watchlist cites his videos as the sole “source” justifying four entries so far.

    The “alt-right” white nationalist news site Breitbart.com, now predictably defending Kirk’s dangerous watchlist, has previously aligned itself with O’Keefe via exclusive releases and spirited defenses of his “journalism” tactics. Both Kirk and O’Keefe also appear to support Breitbart mouthpiece Milo Yiannopoulos, a racist and sexist media stunt artist who styles himself as a journalist.

    The 23-year-old Kirk has made guest appearances on Fox Business for several years. Kirk was previously a contributor at Breitbart, and he has written pieces for The Washington Times and FoxNews.com, among other right-wing outlets, beginning when he was in high school. On Twitter, Kirk has pushed Clinton conspiracy theories, repeatedly delighted in the failures of “the media,” and targetedleftist” professors and “likely” professors for perceived bias for years.

    In 2015, Kirk was the subject of several puff profiles labeling him a “major player in conservative politics” and a “boy wonder” set to “energize” the Republican Party. His group also hosted multiple “Big Government Sucks” rallies that year, with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) making appearances. In July of this year, Kirk spoke at the Republican National Convention about Turning Point USA, describing its work to push conservative values on college campuses, which he called “the most treacherous terrain imaginable.”

    Apart from “calling back to McCarthyism and making lists of college professors who have offended their conservative sensibilities,” Kirk’s Turning Point USA is classified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.” The group claims to have a “presence” on 1,000 college and high school campuses nationally. Another of its projects, Hypeline News, is a “young-adult driven social news site” that employs college-age writers and says it’s “taking back the media.”

    Kirk personally publicly supported Trump for the final months of the election season (although during the primaries he called Trump a “statist” and “demagogue” and was “cheering for a slowdown of the Trump train” in March). In 2011, however, Kirk -- then a high school student -- repeatedly tweeted at Trump, encouraging him to run for president. Last week, Kirk reportedly met with undisclosed members of the Trump transition team at Trump Tower to give “advice on young people and millennials and outreach.”

  • Why Media Should Be Skeptical Of Koch Brothers' New Anti-Poverty Group

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Officials from the Koch brothers' funding arm have announced a new "venture philanthropy" project called Stand Together, with aims of "strengthening the fabric of American society," and focusing on "poverty" and "educational quality," according to USA Today. Media should know that: previous Koch-backed poverty and education efforts have been coupled with ideological proselytizing, Stand Together's executive director is a Koch veteran and former Republican congressional candidate who repeatedly fearmongered about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the group's top collaborator is associated with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan's sham "anti-poverty" efforts.

  • Fox Falsely Claims Obama Wants To Give Up Control Of The Internet To The U.N.

    Blog ››› ››› SOPHIA TESFAYE

    Fox News baselessly claimed that the Obama administration plans to give up control of a key Internet administrator to the United Nations,ignoring Obama administration officials' repeated insistence that it will not let a governmental organization run the agency.

    On the April 10 edition of Fox's America's Newsroom, guest co-host Gregg Jarrett claimed that the Obama administration was to "give up" direct oversight of the Internet and "transfer control to an international body controlled by foreign governments." Guest Jordan Sekulow agreed, claiming that the Obama administration plans to cede control of the Internet to the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Jarrett advanced Fox's previous distortion of the plan, falsely suggesting that nations like China and Russia may now be able to control the Internet and that the plan would lead to the U.N. taxing the Internet. Sekulow agreed, saying that the ITU "is run by dictators" and "authoritative regimes."

    But there is no evidence to support Jarrett's claim that the U.S. intends to give control of ICANN, the agency that administers the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS), to the ITU. In a March 14 press release, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) announced it will proceed with a 1998 plan to transition U.S. control over ICANN to a multi-stakeholder body, explicitly stating that "NTIA will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution."

    In his April 10 congressional testimony, Commerce Department assistant secretary Lawrence Strickling reaffirmed the U.S. government's commitment that no government or inter-governmental body would control ICANN [emphasis added]:

    STRICKLING: We need to ensure that the broad Internet community--companies, technical groups, civil society and governments--continue to work together as equal partners in crafting the rules of the road for the Internet through the multistakeholder model. Some authoritarian regimes however do not accept this model and seek to move Internet governance issues, including the DNS, into the United Nations system in order to exert influence and control over the Internet.

    [...]

    Some have argued that what NTIA is doing is tantamount to "giving away the Internet".That could not be further from the truth. There is no one party--government or industry,including the U.S. Government--that controls the Internet. The Internet is a decentralize dnetwork of networks. What we have in fact done, is demonstrate leadership and strategic vision by laying out a framework with clear conditions to finalize a process that has been ongoing for 16 years.

    [...]

    With the March 14 announcement, NTIA has taken the next step in the 16-year process to privatize the coordination and management of the DNS. ICANN last month began the process of convening stakeholders for the first of many public discussions on this topic. During this period, NTIA's role will remain unchanged. As we have said repeatedly, we will not accept a transition plan that would replace the NTIA role with one led by governments or an inter-governmental organizationand we have established a framework of four principles that the process must address. This must be a careful and thoughtful process. If a plan that meets these criteria cannot be implemented by September 30, 2015, we can extend the contract for up to four years.

    Further, Internet experts have stated that the U.S. plan to relinquish control of ICANN actually weakens the power of the ITU. Politico quoted Nick Ashton-Hart, the Geneva representative for the Computer & Communications Industry Association and a former ICANN official, as saying that "If the U.S. was to try and maintain the master key, it would have been more likely to result in the fragmentation of the Internet," because other countries could claim a similar role. Politico also quoted Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) stating that if the federal government hadn't relinquished its oversight, the ITU could continue to argue that ICANN functioned as a pawn for the U.S. government.

  • Fox News Ignores The Constitution, Calls For Prayer At Public High School Graduation

    Blog ››› ››› MELODY JOHNSON

    A judge has ordered a graduation ceremony for a public high school in Texas to be changed to exclude planned opening and closing prayers. While this adheres to the Constitution of the United States, that's not good enough for Fox & Friends who, today, hosted one of the would-be-praying graduates and his parents to push back against the separation of church and state. The show did not mention that there was no prohibition against students making religious references during their individual speeches. This follows Fox's long history of fabricating a "war on Christians."

    Watch:

  • Two Simple Questions About O'Keefe's Role In The Latest Big Government Smear

    Blog ››› ››› NED RESNIKOFF

    On Tuesday I noted that Philip Christofanelli -- the undergrad "whistleblower" helping Big Government go after two labor studies lecturers at the University of Missouri -- is a former James O'Keefe collaborator. It seemed like an important detail, given that video from the class somehow ended up in the splice-happy hands of Insurgent Visuals.

    Anyway, it didn't take long for me to get a response from Big Government. And I have to admit, for once they scored a direct hit against Media Matters: they correctly identified a typo in my post. What they didn't do was give a direct answer to the central question: Is James O'Keefe playing a role in Project "Go After The Teachers?"

    They get close to a response. They claim I'm arguing that James O'Keefe is "secretly behind the revelation of communist indoctrination," and that this is a "conspiracy theory." But that's just sneering, not a categorical denial. And if the answer to my question is "no," it'd be nice to hear them come out and say it.

    After all, I don't think my question is too unreasonable. Given that he's a clear link between Christofanelli and Big Government, you can see why I might think O'Keefe has something to do with this whole smear campaign. Plus, as News Corpse first reported, someone named James O'Keefe is listed as the contributor on the now-defunct insurgentvisuals.blogspot.com. Crooks and Liars has a screenshot here. It's certainly possible that that's a different Insurgent Visuals, or a different James O'Keefe, or both. But -- and this might just be the tinfoil hat talking -- that seems like an awfully big coincidence.

    So how about it, Big Government? Did Christofanelli give O'Keefe the video or not? And does O'Keefe have any connection to the group that released them to the public?


  • Is James O'Keefe Involved In The Latest Breitbart Smear Campaign?

    Blog ››› ››› NED RESNIKOFF

    After weeks spent attacking two Missouri labor studies professors with heavily edited footage of their classes, Andrew Breitbart's Big Government ran a lengthy "first-hand account" from a conservative college student named Philip Christofanelli. In this account, Christofanelli said that he was not associated with Insurgent Visuals, the group that posted the spliced video. He wrote:

    Since that time, an organization known as Insurgent Visuals has released videos of the class, which have gained considerable media attention. To be clear, I am not Insurgent Visuals, nor am I associated with them. I did not edit any videos or put them online. I did, however, download the original videos off of the class website and give them out in their entirety to a number of my friends in order to obtain other opinions on the propriety of what occurred in the class, and of the steps I should take moving forward.

    He sketched a similar timeline today during an interview with Big Journalism editor Dana Loesch on her radio program, The Dana Show. There, he said:

    I gave the whole classes to a couple of-- I mean, a few of my friends, and I didn't expect it to really blow up from there. It was when Insurgent Visuals released their videos that I really saw that it had become a huge issue.

    It's unclear how the tapes made their way to Insurgent Visuals. But it is worth noting* that on at least one occasion Christofanelli has collaborated with Andrew Breitbart's favorite smear artist, James O'Keefe.

  • CNN's Loesch Mounts Dishonest Defense Of Breitbart's Chop Shop Editing

    Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

    CNN's Dana Loesch is trying to pretend away the deceptive editing practices at the center of the Andrew Breitbart campaign to "go after the teachers."

    Yesterday, officials at the University of Missouri-St. Louis concluded that the videos Breitbart's site Big Government used to smear two of the university's labor studies lecturers were "highly distorted through splicing and editing."

    Loesch rejected their findings on her radio show today:

    This story, it began with a whistleblower who got some video of some of the things that were being said in his class, sent it out to a bunch of people, and progressives freaked out. And because they went up on the Breitbart sites, of course they immediately said Andrew Breitbart has some sort of magical editing, video editing, equipment, which, I -- if it's out there, please show me where I can purchase stock, because it's just magical. Now you can get people into scenes and you can manipulate them so that say things that they can try to deny later. There is absolutely nothing that has been put out there that is out of context.

    This is demonstrably false.

  • University Of Missouri Concludes That Big Government Used "Distorted" Video In Latest Sting

    Blog ››› ››› NED RESNIKOFF

    Last month Andrew Breitbart made good on his promise to "go after the teachers," as his Big Government website published a series of misleadingly edited videos attacking the University of Missouri's labor studies program. Big Government's editors claimed the video showed two labor studies professors at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the University of Missouri-Kansas City teaching students that "fear, intimidation, and, even, industrial sabotage are important and, often, necessary tools."

    But the claims Big Government writers made about those videos are simply not credible. And this isn't just our view; after reviewing all of the tapes, the chancellor and provost of the University of Missouri-St. Louis reached the same conclusion.

    From an open letter published on St. Louis Activist Hub:

    We have finally completed viewing the videos originating at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) from the UMSL course Introduction to Labor Studies. The excerpts that were made public showing the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) instructor Don Giljum and students as well as the UMKC instructor and students were definitely taken out of context, with their meaning highly distorted through splicing and editing from different times within a class period and across multiple class periods.

    As stated previously, our campus supports academic freedom, civility, diversity, open discourse and the pursuit of knowledge. We support the academic freedom of faculty, staff and students at UMSL. Contrary to some reports, Don Giljum has not been fired from the campus faculty, and in fact, is completing the course; he remains eligible to teach at UMSL. We sincerely regret the distress to him and others that has been caused by the unauthorized copying, editing and distribution of the course videos.

    The full text of the letter is available here.

  • Big Government Exposes Sinister Plot To Encourage Critical Thinking In The Classroom

    Blog ››› ››› NED RESNIKOFF

    Only a couple of weeks after professional fabulist Andrew Breitbart kicked off his campaign to "go after the teachers," things are getting silly.

    Today, Kyle Olson -- head of something called the Education Action Group Foundation -- published a video on Big Government which he claimed exposed a group of socialist school teachers plotting how best to "subtly fill [young minds] with Marxist and radical ideas."

    Here's one of the "radicals" in the video laying out their spooky brainwaishing plot:

    But I do think that wherever you possibly can, part of it is actually just allowing for room for critical thought in the classroom and allowing for students to think for themselves, talk about issues wherever possible, to bring in history and you know, radicals from the past and fight for that kind of thing. And I think there is space to do that.

    So in Olson's view, "allowing for room for critical thought in the classroom" and "allowing for students to think for themselves" is indoctrination.

    Breitbart and his followers can claim that his anti-teacher campaign is all about battling indoctrination, but really it's about the opposite. No wonder Olson finds "allowing for room for critical thought" to be such a malevolent concept. Critical thought demands hearing out opposing views, and opposing views are one thing Big Government would apparently prefer to keep out of American classrooms.

    So who's pro-indoctrinating children again? The socialist who's for "allowing for students to think for themselves [and] to talk about issues," or the conservative who seems to think being a socialist is an automatic disqualification for teaching any subject?