Bad press, hot mess

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A journalism professor was fired this week.


Everyone’s talking about it, but few are complaining about it.

Although he’s vowed to fight to get his job back, tomorrow is James Tracy‘s last day at Florida Atlantic University, an obscure state school between Palm Beach and Miami Beach.

So why has CBS News and NBC News covered his firing? Why has the story spread from The Washington Post to The Jerusalem Post?

Because Tracy accidentally accomplished something no journalist (or politician or celebrity) could pull off on purpose: Enrage both the liberal left and extreme right, plus most of the moderate middle. So basically, everyone.

Tracy is arguably the nation’s most-hated and best-educated conspiracy theorist. He’s paranoid with a PhD.

On his personal blog called Memory Hole, he insists “the federal government and its major media appendages” are behind almost every act of terrorism — foreign and domestic — in this country…

  • The 1993 World Trade Center bombing: “was in fact a FBI sting.”
  • The Boston marathon bombing: “finely tuned stagecraft” by the federal government to exert more “government-corporate manipulation.”
  • The San Bernadino shootings: “Clear evidence” of a government “drill gone live.”

But what got Tracy interviewed on CNN and mocked by late-night TV hosts a few years ago was this declaration: The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre “never took place.” It was really a “live shooter drill” featuring “crisis actors” hired by the federal government and covered up by national media.

That, of course, means those 20 children who the media said were shot dead are still very much alive. Which means their parents are part of the cover-up.

As offensive as that is, Tracy wasn’t fired. He was only “reprimanded” because…

  • He’s a tenured professor.
  • FAU is a public institution.
  • Faculty defended his right to free speech and academic freedom.
  • Everyone thought this would blow over.

Except it blew up. Tracy has gone from talking crazy to acting crazy.

Last month, on the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, two parents wrote a guest column in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the daily paper closest to FAU. In it, Lenny and Veronique Pozner called for FAU to finally fire Tracy, claiming…

Tracy even sent us a certified letter demanding proof that Noah once lived, that we were his parents, and that we were the rightful owner of his photographic image. We found this so outrageous and unsettling that we filed a police report for harassment. Once Tracy realized we would not respond, he subjected us to ridicule and contempt on his blog, boasting to his readers that the “unfulfilled request” was “noteworthy” because we had used copyright claims to “thwart continued research of the Sandy Hook massacre event.”

Tracy replied on Facebook…

The local conspirators in Newtown, such as the alleged parents of the murdered children, including Lenny and Veronique Pozner, have made out very well financially, soliciting contributions from generous yet misinformed Americans, where the families have averaged more than $1,000,000 apiece.

That was enough for FAU, who many observers thought would nail Tracy for the harassment — but instead cited a paperwork problem. As The Huffington Post reported…

In a notice of termination obtained by The Huffington Post, the school chastised Tracy for failing to submit paperwork about outside employment or “professional activity” required of all faculty. Instead, Tracy provided a letter saying he shouldn’t have to fill out the forms, according to the notice.

So that’s as tidy a summary as this reporter can muster. If you’ve made it this far, ask yourself: Would you have fired James Tracy now? Before? Or never?

Me, I agree with firing him now.

That might seem like a weird thing to say on a blog that champions college journalism. But I look at it like this…

Journalists frequently investigate cops, doctors, and lawyers who defend their own kind even when they repeatedly screw up. These are compelling stories because they reveal professional hypocrisy, and because real people get hurt.

For noble reasons, I don’t want SPJ to become that kind of story. For greedy reasons, I don’t want to excuse bad journalists because it undermines SPJ’s credibility when we stick up for good journalists.

So besides Tracy tormenting grieving parents, here are four unreported reasons why I’m conspiring against him…

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1. James Tracy can’t write.


I doubt many of Tracy’s caustic critics and casual supporters have actually read his blog. I have. And it’s awful.

I’m even not talking about the content. I’m talking about the clarity. Tracy’s writing is impenetrable. Here’s one paragraph from a Sandy Hook post titled, Continued Ambiguity and Augmented Realities

Along these lines and despite countervailing facts and inconsistencies the official story of the Sandy Hook shooting is now part of the nation’s collective experience, consciousness and memory. To declare that the shooting “never took place” is cause for intense opprobrium in most polite circles where, in familiar Orwellian fashion, the media-induced trance and dehistoricized will to believe maintain their hold. Similarly, an individual who contends that Timothy McVeigh was an accessory in a much larger operation at Oklahoma City, Osama bin Laden was not responsible for the events of 9/11, or the World Trade Center Towers were brought down by controlled demolition is vigorously condemned for thought crimes against the state. Such are the immense dimensions of mass manipulation where fact and tragedy may be routinely revised and reinforced to fit the motives and designs toward a much larger apparatus of social and geopolitical control.

Interestingly, Tracy says he’s “misunderstood” by the general public. But if you can’t write clearly about a topic you know is controversial, maybe you shouldn’t teach others about writing.

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2. James Tracy hates the mainstream media.


But maybe that’s because he doesn’t understand it.

Tracy says he was “attacked” by Anderson Cooper in a 2013 broadcast. But the CNN anchor simply caught Tracy in a lie. Cooper said this about the Sandy Hook victims…

In his blog Tracy suggests they may have been, and I quote, “trained actors working under the direction of state and federal authorities and in coordination with cable and broadcast network talent to provide tailor-made crisis acting,” end quote. Tracy even cites a company called Crisis Actors that provides actors to use in safety drills and the like. Apparently, that is supposed to bolster his case. By the way, there is such a company, and they are appalled by his comments.

In a statement today they said, and I quote, “We are outraged by Tracy’s deliberate promotion of rumor and innuendo to link Crisis Actors to the Sandy Hook shootings. We do not engage our actors in any real-world crisis events.”

How did Tracy respond? He wrote an open letter to Cooper: “I challenge you to join me on a reportorial quest to Newtown and Sandy Hook in order to revisit and rigorously question the painful affair.”

Of course, that never happened.

Did Tracy really expect Anderson Cooper to hand him a microphone so they could jointly interrogate Sandy Hook victims? What reporter asks a controversial source, “Hey, wanna go interview some people with me?”

No journalist would do that, and no journalism professor would teach that. Yet Tracy closes his letter by boasting, “This could very well be a landmark event in investigative journalism.”

Elsewhere in the letter, Tracy complains that CNN pestered him after he refused to comment: “Your staff then repeatedly telephoned my residence, later filming in front of my home.”

That’s legal and common. Doesn’t Tracy understand how reporting works?

It’s hard to tell, because he can’t write: “Major news media operate in a de facto censorial fashion with the federal government to highlight certain phenomena while simultaneously rendering important artifacts down the memory hole.”

If you don’t like something and don’t understand it, why would you want to teach it?

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3. James Tracy isn’t a great professor.


He’s not a terrible one, either.

I asked several FAU alumni about his classroom demeanor and got a Goldilocks range of responses: hot, cold, just right. That’s typical of any professor who’s taught for more than a decade.

Those who took his classes years ago – from Introduction to Media Studies to Public Opinion and Modernity, among others – seem to have liked him more than those who have taken them recently…

He was incredibly strict and his class was challenging, but the content was actually fascinating and I really enjoyed his class. I think his craziness got a hell of a lot worse in the last few years.

One simply said, “That man is vile,” while another adored him…

I carry a lot of what I learned in his classes in my pockets everyday. Some it was far-fetched. Some if it not. All of it challenged me to rethink why it might be far-fetched, though, which forced me to consider common explanations we often take for granted. He was one of my favorite professors.

But because Tracy is such an unabashed conspiracy theorist, one professional editor who took his class eight years ago told me…

I honestly don’t remember him doing anything overtly weird. But because he had such a negative view of the media, it did make question whether or not I wanted to be a journalist.

…and that’s dangerous. If Tracy scares one college journalist out of the profession for reasons easily proven wrong — according to investigations by the same media he loathes — his downside swamps his upside.

There’s no shortage of engaging journalism professors who can enlighten without frightening. And in fact, some FAU alumni believe Tracy benefited from teaching in a Communication School that lacked many compelling professors – he was simply fascinating by comparison.

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4. James Tracy is delusional.


Tracy insists he’s the victim here…

“I was being publicly excoriated and my livelihood threatened for essentially doing what I was trained and hired to do — media analysis and criticism.”

But where’s the “analysis and criticism” in this

It is now beyond question that the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. all involved patsies, additional gunman and perhaps most importantly, mass media complicity to achieve their political ends.

“Beyond question”?

Even so, I defend Jim Tracy’s right to write. But harassing the parents of dead kids and getting paid with tax dollars while doing it? To quote Tracy…

“One is left to seriously ponder the informal yet persuasive constraints placed in intellectuals today who concretely address certain controversial issues and topics.”

Whatever the hells that means.


Michael Koretzky was FAU’s part-time newspaper adviser from 1998 until 2010, when he was fired. The staff asked him to volunteer, which he still does to this day.

 


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