Archive for the ‘media offenders’ Category

Tough shirt

The back of our T-shirt is back.

When Fox News plagiarized a student newspaper last month, we wanted to do more than just complain about it. We tried selling T-shirts.

We hooked up with a fundraising screenprinter called Bonfire. But last week, Bonfire got nervous: We were violating copyright law to mock plagiarism. Our shirts were shut down.

Maybe Bonfire is more sensitive to bad PR than Fox News, because one of our alternate designs was finally accepted.

You can now BUY YOUR SHIRT HERE and support The Duke, the student newspaper at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

They make great gifts.

I bought a small shirt for plagiarizing Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt and had it shipped to Fox HQ in New York City.

(Did you know Earhardt recently wrote a book? Wouldn’t it be funny if we plagiarized it right here in this blog?)

I also sent an extra-large shirt to Duquesne president Ken Gormley, since he literally looks like a big man on campus.

Finally, I bought two larges for Zachary Landau. He’s the Duquesne student journalist whose story Earnhardt plagiarized. When he wrote it, he was a volunteer at the newspaper. So quite literally, he’s being paid in T-shirts for all his trouble.


Oh, the irony…

So much for the shirts.

Earlier this week, I wrote about Fox & Friends plagiarizing the student newspaper at Duquesne, a small Catholic university in Pittsburgh. Irked and confused, the students tried to contact Fox News – which, of course, ignored them.

I wanted to turn their frowns upside down, so I designed this T-shirt to sell via a fundraising company called Bonfire…

…and I purposefully used the Fox News logo – because I wanted Fox’s flesh-eating lawyers to force me to stop.

I thought it’d be funny and ironic if they sent me a cease-and-desist letter that essentially said, “You can’t steal our logo to make a point about our plagiarism!”

Instead, Bonfire itself emailed me Tuesday…

We’ve detected a potential problem with your shirt design. Specifically, your artwork incorporates the following elements that may be protected under a trademark: Fox News. To proceed with your current shirt design, we require a signed letter of permission from the trademark holder.

But Bonfire said I could create an “alternate design,” which I did…

…and which was also rejected because Fox has apparently created its own custom font – which looks strangely like Arial to me. But what do I know?

So then I designed this – using Arial…

…but fed up or scared or whatever, Bonfire closed my account. All that’s left is this odd page that implies the T-shirt campaign closed all by itself, and four people got their shirts.

In reality, no one got nothing. That means 37 people are shirtless today, and the staff at The Duquesne Duke is out $81 in its cut of the sales. Bonfire emailed me this morning, “We refund all orders for canceled campaigns and we did so for your orders.”

This leads me to conclude…

A T-shirt company is more ethical than Fox News, and Fox News is less communicative than a T-shirt company.

To skirt trademark law, I’m going to print the original shirts myself. But I won’t sell them. I’ll give them to The Dusquesne Duke staff, who can give them away to whoever they please. That’ll make it editorial comment, just on cloth instead of paper.

Or The Duke staff can actually sell the shirts – because that might be the only way they’ll ever hear back from Fox News. Up to them.

Dammit, nothing is simple in journalism these days.

See no evil

Fox News plagiarizes college students. And all they get is a funny T-shirt.

Here’s how the journalism food chain works these days – with cable news as sharks and college journalists as plankton…


The student newspaper at Duquesne University, a small private Catholic school in Pittsburgh, writes a story about LGBT students who don’t want a Chick-fil-A opening on campus.

The newspaper, called The Duke, quotes one Student Government leader with the groovy name of Niko Martini: “Chick-fil-A has a questionable history on civil rights and human rights.”

The Duke also quotes a woman named Rachel Coury, the president of Duquesne’s LGBT student group…

I’ve tried very hard within the last semester and a half to promote this safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community. So I fear that with the Chick-fil-A being in Options that maybe people will feel that safe place is at risk.


A website called Campus Reform, a conservative “watchdog to the nation’s higher education system,” picks up The Duke’s story.

Written by an “investigative reporter,” the headline is…

Students ‘fear’ Chick-fil-A will jeopardize ‘safe place’

…yet the entire story is a rewrite of The Duke’s reporting. At least that’s acknowledged – sort of…

“Chick-fil-A has a questionable history on civil rights and human rights,” Martini remarked in a statement to The Duquesne Duke.

So the headline is based on one student’s comment, and the story contains not one quote – or even fact – that The Duke didn’t write. In other words, this “investigative reporter” did zero investigating. Or even reporting.


The story goes national on The Daily Caller, a conservative website co-founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Under the headline University’s LGBT Students ‘Fear’ Arrival Of Chick-fil-A, here’s the lede…

Some students at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University live in “fear” of the arrival of a Chick-fil-A fast-food restaurant to their college’s food fair, Campus Reform reports.

The Duke only gets mentioned once, in the middle of the story…

“Chick-fil-A has a questionable history on civil rights and human rights,” Martini told The Duquesne Duke.


The story inevitably makes Fox News.

Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt interviews Sean Parnell, a former Army Ranger and Duquesne alum who’s an occasional Fox commentator.

Under a graphic that reads, “RUFFLING FEATHERS,” Earhardt sums up the story without mentioning any sources, which implies Fox did the reporting.

Parnell jumps in with comments like, “They’re a bunch of babies” and “It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

(He also says some things I personally agree with, like, “Nobody is forcing them to eat at Chick-fil-A.” But this isn’t about me.)

Then Earhardt says this about Duquesne’s “gay straight alliance”…

We reached out to the president, and she sent this message to us: “I fear with the Chick-fil-A maybe people will feel that safe place is at risk.”

Except that’s a lie. Fox News never reached out to anyone.


The Duke reclaims its story by asking that president, Rachel Coury, if she really did tell Fox News the exact same thing she told them.

Coury replied…

Fox News stated that they reached out to me for comment, and that I gave them the statement they read on-air, but this is false. I never communicated with Fox News. I never gave them the statement they read on-air.

Unlike the “professionals” who didn’t follow up on this story, The Duke tried…

The Duke reached out to Fox News Wednesday night, and did not receive a response by press time.

They still haven’t. And that really pisses off these two women.


“What Fox News did – or more specifically, what it didn’t do – violates a core part of SPJ’s Code of Ethics,” says SPJ president Lynn Walsh, whose day job is investigative executive producer at the NBC affiliate in San Diego.

“The timing couldn’t be more ironic – this is Ethics Week at SPJ,” Walsh says. “One major tenet of our code is: Never plagiarize. Always attribute. By not contacting the student and then using a quote from another publication without attribution, Fox News didn’t practice ethical journalism standards. To do this to college students seem even more wrong.”

That’s precisely what galls The Duke’s staff.

“It’s absurd that as 20-somethings working for a school newspaper, we at The Duke have a better grasp of media ethics than Fox News,” says editor-in-chief Kaye Burnet. “If one of my writers was caught plagiarizing another journalist’s work like this, they would be removed from The Duke’s staff immediately.”

What really enrages Burnet is that her reporter, Zachary Landau, got shafted.

“Zach is a volunteer,” she says. “To see Ainsley pass off Zach’s work as her own was disgusting. Obviously, Fox has so much more power and influence than The Duke. They can steal other people’s work without consequence, and there’s very little we can do about it.”

That’s the the most powerful journalism lesson Burnet and her staff will learn this month. Maybe ever.


Sadly, SPJ doesn’t have a lot of power, either. But we do have T-shirts.

So to raise money (for poor Zach) and awareness (for Burnet and her staff), SPJ SMACK is selling shirts that say, “The Duquesne Duke” on the front and “We’re so good, Fox News steals our s#!t” on the back.

Want one? It’s yours for only $15. ORDER NOW!

I bought two – one for me and one for Ainsley Earhardt. Wonder if she’ll wear it.

Fishy at DePauw


What’s a journo-fish?

Years ago, I read a bizarre New York Times science article called Sex Change in Fish Found Common. It began…

When a school of reef fish loses its single male, the largest female begins acting like a male within a few hours and will produce sperm within 10 days.

Wild, right?

But that doesn’t just happen in schools of fish. Something similar happens in schools of journalism.

Sadly, some journalists who become professors begin acting like administrators within days. Instead of sperm, they produce spin. I wrote about it last month, when several journos-turned-profs illegally closed a meeting of a Journalism Task Force.

Now it’s happened at DePauw University, an hour outside Indianapolis – and the birthplace of SPJ more than a century ago. A brand-new professor, who was previously an excellent journalist, helped depose a student editor for what she calls a “breach of ethics.”

Except it wasn’t. Even SPJ’s ethics chairman says so.


She’s a whale of a reporter.

The newspaper at DePauw is called, uncleverly, The DePauw. It’s 164 years old, but a new adviser started just this school year.

I met Meg Kissinger during her first week on the job, when I visited DePauw to lead a four-day training seminar for the newspaper staff. She was quite nice. Which, of course, makes what happened next quite awful.

Kissinger has spent 38 years on the job, many of them as an investigative reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She was a 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist who specializes in covering mental health. (Check this out, it’s very cool.)

Kissinger graduated from DePauw in 1979, so it only made sense she’d return to train a new generation of kick-ass journalists.

Yet last semester, she – along with a group of school officials – removed The DePauw’s editor-in-chief for what they call “a damaging and avoidable conflict of interest.”

What did this editor do? She gave a preacher a sandwich.


She’s a pain in the bass.

In September, Nicole DeCriscio covered a familiar story: Crazy preachers who tour college campuses to verbally assault sinning students.

At DePauw, The Campus Ministry USA sent five members to harangue passing students as “baby killers, masturbators, porno freaks, feminists” and other interesting insults.

At most campuses, students mock the preachers, while campus cops roust anyone getting too agitated. When the drama ebbs, the traveling show moves on.

Not at DePauw.

DeCriscio and one of her reporters covered the preachers’ first visit, which so angered one woman, she threw hot coffee at them. Police officers even tackled a student and an administrator — both black men. Suddenly, the cops were the story, and the campus outcry was enough for DePauw’s president to call an “open forum” to talk about both the preachers and the police.

DeCriscio and one of her reporters covered the preachers’ follow-up visit the next week, which was anti-climactic. Prepared this time, students and faculty laughed at the preachers, and police sighed with relief.

Undaunted, the preachers tried one last time before migrating to another campus. Figuring the story was over, DeCriscio decided to do something different and dig a little deeper. So she wrote a first-person column called Why I Brought Brother Jed A Sandwich

I think that if they turned in their signs reading “You promote rape” and “Yoga pants are a sin” for something like “Ask me about Jesus Christ,” they would be far more effective. Each of them have a remarkable testimony that has the power to change the hearts and minds of others. It has the ability to bring others to Christ…I’m sad that my brothers and sisters in Christ at DePauw, which even include some members of the faculty and staff, failed to demonstrate Christ’s love.

That was too much for Kissinger. DeCriscio was fired 12 days later.


Carping on this letter.

DeCriscio was fired the old-fashioned way: She was handed a letter on stationery. (Click the image above to read it.) Her offense was explained like this…

You had already established yourself as a reporter covering the news of the events surrounding Campus Ministries’ visit to campus. By inserting yourself as an interested actor within the ongoing news story, you created a conflict of interest that was both avoidable and ultimately damaging to the reputation of The DePauw.

When I called Kissinger to ask if the editor was really fired for writing an opinion column, the conversation went like this…

Kissinger: The problem was, how could she  impartially oversee coverage of the story for the rest of the semester?

Me: But Nicole says the story was over. She told  me, “When I wrote the column about the sandwich, the  preachers had no intention of coming back to DePauw that semester.”

Kissinger: There’s no way of knowing that.

Me: Fair enough, but she says if they did come back, she’d just assign the story to someone else – which she can do, because, I mean, she’s the editor. Is this really a firing offense?

Kissinger: She wasn’t fired.

Me: Uh…what?

Kissinger: She wasn’t fired. She was suspended for the remainder of her term.

Me: What’s the difference?

Kissinger: Well, it’s not like she’s banned from the paper.

Me: She’s not?

Kissinger: She’s welcome to write any other stories for the paper. She knows that. She’s welcome to write a review for the paper, and she can cover another story.

Me: But if she wrote something so terrible that it got her fired, why is it OK for her to write something else now?

Kissinger: She wasn’t fired, Michael. She was suspended because it was a conflict of interest for her to express her opinion. Really, that’s in the SPJ Code of Ethics.

Except it’s really not.


He’s saying, “Holy mackerel!”

As SPJ’s ethics chair, Andrew Seaman‘s job is usually one of nuance and restraint. Many ethical conundrums require sublime parsing.

Not this one.

“I take issue with the adviser’s draconian approach,” he told me after reading the letter and Kissinger’s explanation. “I don’t think giving protesters sandwiches and drinks really interferes with Nicole’s ability to do a good story.”

Even if it did, “I still say the offense didn’t fit the punishment – especially for a student publication.”

As Seaman explains…

Student newspapers are laboratories for journalists in training. Unless an offense is on par with plagiarism, fabrication, and the ilk, professors and advisers should use perceived errors as educational moments.

But he doesn’t perceive any errors…

The SPJ Code of Ethics says: “Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public.” Didn’t Nicole live up to that by explaining her actions? Really, Nicole could argue she addressed nearly all of the principles under the Code’s tenet to “be accountable and transparent.”

Seaman is stunned – and galled – that SPJ’s Code of Ethics was twisted into a reason to fire a student editor…

As someone who helped write the revised Code of Ethics and served as its guardian since its adoption, I can say DePauw’s actions are not keeping with the spirit of the document. In my opinion, everyone there overreacted, took Draconian action, and now are stuck defending those decisions.

Seaman’s conclusion: “In the grand scheme of things, the editor of a student publication took some protesters food and drinks. Is that really worth all this trouble? I don’t think so.”


The sole reason for all this.

If DeCriscio was fired – er, suspended – for violating SPJ’s Code of Ethics when SPJ’s ethics chair says she didn’t, something fishy is going on here.

DeCriscio thinks it was this…

The campus had decided to hate Brother Jed. Because I saw him as a whole person, I think it was the content why I got fired. Meg said the same thing would have happened if I wrote about kittens, but I don’t believe that.

My theory is slightly different: DeCriscio was also fired to protect an adviser who she says drank with her students in the newsroom.

When I visited DePauw last summer, I asked the newspaper’s editors what they did for fun when they weren’t doing journalism. The answer: “We drink.” How much? “A lot.”

The students told me drinking is a huge problem at DePauw, and they credit the administration with valiantly trying to keep it sane. But they also say it doesn’t make a dent.

“There’s nothing else to do around here,” the (under-aged) art director told me, waving a hand to indicate the entire town of Greencastle, Indiana.

The week I visited, I hung out with the editors on deadline – and watched many of them rush through production so they could go drink. The art director joked, “We should just start drinking in the newsroom.”

A few weeks after I left, DeCriscio said that’s exactly what happened – and Meg Kissinger drank with the staff.

“My staff first drank on deadline the Thursday before Brother Jed’s visit,” she says. “They started around 7. They also mostly hid it from me by putting it in closed water bottles. That was the night that Meg drank with them.”

Stunned, I asked DeCriscio for details.

“I saw her drinking out of a paper coffee cup,” she told me. “I overheard my staff say, ‘I hope Meg didn’t drink all our wine.’ It was wine. She also later admitted to me that she drank with them.”

(I’ve asked Kissinger about this twice via email, but her only reply has been, “Drinking did not factor in the decision.”)

The following week, now assuming they had the adviser’s blessing, the editors didn’t bother with water bottles. DeCriscio says…

“They went to pull out the wine around 7 or 7:30. I asked them to wait until closer to the end of deadline night. They waited an hour.  I was pissed that my asking them to wait wasn’t enough. I was pissed that the advisers hadn’t helped me put an end to it after the first incident. I don’t know how much wine they had coming into that night, but they left four large empty bottles in the trash.

DeCriscio isn’t straight-edge or a teetotaler. What infuriated her about the drinking was the shoddy journalism that resulted from it. But at DePauw, the editor-in-chief can’t fire staffers who were hired before her term – and the drinkers were staffers she inherited. So she complained to Kissinger and the publication board. She didn’t feel like her complaint was embraced.

“They called this kumbaya meeting with the editorial board and said, ‘This must stop’ because it’s against university policy,” DeCriscio says.  But there was no investigation, punishment, or monitoring. It was never mentioned again.

Interestingly, The DePauw also never mentioned its editor being fired (I mean suspended). DeCriscio finds that amusing.

“I did something so bad that I was fired over it, but what’s worse was that they didn’t follow the SPJ Code of Ethics and report on my firing,” she says. “It was swept under the rug.”

Maybe because under that rug were a lot of empty wine bottles.


In cod we trust.

SMACK likes to win weird. We’re not powerful enough to get a fired editor reinstated at a private university. We can, however, use the school’s own rules to pay for her to go to Manhattan.

Like many schools, DePauw offers grants to its students if they do something above and beyond. So SMACK asked the College Media Association if SPJ could present a session next month at its annual spring convention, just a few blocks from Times Square. We then asked DeCriscio to speak about what happened to her as editor.

Based on that, she applied for, and won, a $600 Student Research & Artistic Grant, plus $500 from The Hubbard Center for Student Engagement.

That’s enough for airfare, cab, hotel, and convention registration. So basically, DePauw is paying for DeCriscio to go to New York City to talk about how she got fired. I mean, suspended.

While she’s there, DeCriscio will interview student journalists about drinking in their  own newsrooms – because I doubt The DePauw invented that. Her report will appear on the College Media Watchdog.

We also asked DeCriscio to join the SMACK staff, where she’ll help choose winners of our own cash grants, called The Bayonet Awards. She’s said yes. Why? Just for the halibut.


Rack ’em!


You just can’t top this…

Yesterday, Florida Atlantic University miraculously found a new place for South Florida Gay News to distribute. All it took was the threat of topless women strolling around campus, handing out copies of a gay newspaper.

See yesterday’s post )

FAU had insisted it would take 16 months – until May 2017 – to “renovate” the single metal rack where SFGN offered free copies of its weekly issues. FAU has built parking garages quicker than that.

Now SFGN will have two campus locations: one outside the library, the other outside the student union. After a month of ignoring his efforts at compromise, SFGN editor Jason Parsley says FAU promised him those racks would be installed within the next 2-3 weeks.

“I’m happy we were able to resolve this issue so quickly,” Parsley says. “But in the future, I would advise FAU to respond to people in a timely fashion, in order to avoid a situation like this spiraling out of control.”

Yesterday, FAU’s student newspaper offered to help. Editor Emily Bloch says SFGN can borrow some University Press racks until SFGN’s racks are ready.

Parsley is pleased, and he has no regrets…

This was just one distribution point out of hundreds that we have here at SFGN. I could have just as easily said it wasn’t worth my time. While I’m sure FAU sees this differently, I saw it as First Amendment issue. And it’s important to remember the First Amendment is non-negotiable. Our freedom of speech and the press are two civil rights that nobody can take away.

So all’s well that started stupidly. Alas, tomorrow’s topless distribution protest has been called off.

Too bad, because I was really looking forward to FAU frat boys eagerly accepting newspapers from topless women, only to read them and realize, “Hey, this is gay!”

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.


Nice rack


Staying abreast of the news…

On Wednesday, topless women will distribute a gay newspaper at a public university in South Florida.

Why? To defend a free press.

South Florida Gay News is the southeast’s largest weekly gay newspaper, but Florida Atlantic University only allows SFGN to distribute in a single spot on campus.

It’s a metal rack FAU built, which sounds generous until you learn the school banned SFGN from having its own racks. The school says it’s trying to “beautify” the campus by getting rid of ugly newspaper boxes.

That’s fine as far as it goes – those things are ugly – but earlier this month, FAU sent this poorly written email to SFGN editor Jason Parsley

The newspaper racks that was assigned for placing the South Florida Gay News publication were removed from the breezeway for renovation project. At this time we do not have an alternate location. Please suspend the delivery of the magazine until further notice.

Parsley inquired, “Do you have a timeframe on when the project will be complete?”

This is the full text of FAU’s reply: “The project is expected to be finished in May of 2017.”

That’s a long time to renovate a metal box. It’s also illegal, as we’ll see in a moment.

Parsley didn’t give up: “Are there other locations on campus where publications display their products?”

FAU didn’t give in: “Unfortunately the breezeway was the only location. I will let you know if we will identify other locations in the meantime.”

Parsley tried again, but FAU is no longer responding. On his own, he learned FAU also booted a couple other free publications. But they don’t cover news – they’re glorified shoppers – and they didn’t object.

So what’s going on here? I have a theory: FAU is banning several small publications to get to SFGN, and it has nothing to do with being gay.


The naked truth…

Two weeks before FAU ousted Parsley’s newspaper, he wrote this column criticizing his alma mater for violating Florida’s open-meetings law. (Parsley was editor of FAU’s student newspaper in 2007.)

Is FAU retaliating against SFGN? If not, this sure is a coincidence. Which isn’t lost on Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, DC.

“A public university can’t single out certain disfavored publications based on editorial content and give them inferior distribution locations – or none at all – to penalize or restrain unwanted messages,” LoMonte says.

LoMonte says the law is “murky” about public universities being required to distribute off-campus publications. But…

Once a college in fact has made the decision to allow newsracks on campus walkways, then there must be some reasonable justification for deviating from that policy unrelated to the publication’s content, and the speaker must be provided with some reasonable alternative way of reaching the audience.

If FAU is effectively banning the publication from campus, it would have the burden of showing that the decision is both unrelated to the publication’s content and that no alternative location exists, which would be awfully hard to do.

That’s “awfully hard” because only 16 days separate Parsley’s critical column and FAU’s ungrammatical emails. Plus, two daily newspapers aren’t being booted for renovations. LoMonte calls this “circumstantial evidence of a cause-and-effect” – and he says it’s “quite strong.”

So SFGN could sue FAU. And it might. SFGN’s publisher is an attorney who has gone to court over First Amendment issues before – and won. If a lawsuit happens, SMACK will help him apply to SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund.

But that could take months. We have a better, quicker idea.


How to get the circulation going…

If FAU doesn’t back down, SMACK will take off the gloves – and the tops. On Wednesday, volunteers will walk around campus handing out SFGN’s latest issue.

You can see the cover above. It’s about the Go Topless Movement, which seeks equal treatment under the law: If men can walk around bare-chested, why can’t women?

So it only makes sense that topless women will hand out the paper. Luckily, the forecast is sunny and 74 degrees. (This plan wouldn’t work at the University of Vermont.)

We’ll notify local media, and our volunteers will even hand-deliver copies to the office of FAU President John Kelly.

If campus cops arrest our volunteers, SMACK will throw their bail. And if everyone has a good time, we just might do this for every weekly issue of SFGN.

Or FAU can finally reply to Parsley and come up with a solution that won’t take 16 months. But now that we’ve organized all of this, I kind of hope they don’t.


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.


Ha! Ha! That’s terrible!


This joke is hilarious…

Q. What do you call a meeting of journalists who want to discuss the journalism in the student newspaper at a public university?

A. Closed to the public.

Welcome to Florida Atlantic University, which is a real funny place. Last semester, FAU appointed a Journalism Task Force of mostly faculty. Their mission: “Improve” the reporting in its student newspaper. But they closed their meetings to the public after I showed up at one.

“Your last visit caused concern for some faculty who felt it was disruptive to have a non-member of the task force at the table,” JTF chairman Neil Santaniello emailed me.

He added…

The Communication Department consulted with FAU General Counsel on whether the JTF meetings were open to the public. The interpretation we received: the task force is a fact-finding body, not a decision-making body. In short: JTF meetings are not public. The school director, David Williams, came to the same conclusion

That’s funny for three reasons…

  1. I sat in the back of the meeting and said nothing unless spoken to. How is that “disruptive”?
  2. Santaniello and three other JTF faculty members are former journalists who once quietly observed meetings themselves.
  3. FAU’s attorney is so wrong, it’s not even funny.

This joke is illegal…

“Under Florida law, advisory committees formed for the purpose of making recommendations are subject to both our open meetings law and the public records law,” says attorney Barbara Petersen, who’s also president of the First Amendment Foundation, based in Florida’s capital of Tallahassee.

In the nation’s capital, another attorney agrees.

“Legally, I think the answer is pretty clear,” says Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, DC. “This is really a ‘task force’ appointed to participate in the decision process — it’s not just six people informally getting together for a brainstorming session.”

Because of that, “Under Florida law, it’s a public meeting and must comply with all of the legal formalities — including giving public notice and letting the public attend.”

I’ve twice emailed David Williams, the director of FAU’s Communication School. In an amusing twist, he refuses to communicate with me.


This joke is sad…

After hearing these legal opinions, FAU administrators still didn’t open those Journalism Task Force meetings. Instead, they shut down the entire project.

Here’s the joint statement yesterday from arts and letters dean Heather Coltman and student affairs vice president Corey King

Due to the desire of some individuals to create unnecessary conflict that does not contribute to the progress of student journalism at FAU or aid in the progress of designing a better learning experience for students, we have decided to suspend the activities of the task force.

I’m fairly certain I’m one of those “individuals.”

I had threatened to crash the next JTF meeting and force them to arrest me, because that would’ve been hilarious: Journalists calling the cops to arrest a journalist trying to report on a meeting of journalists talking about journalism.


This joke is typical…

Weirdly, Coltman and King believe open meetings do “not contribute to the progress of student journalism at FAU.”

That confuses the SPLC’s Frank LoMonte…

Leaving the law aside, it’s ponderous why any discussion of the structure of a journalism program should exclude interested campus stakeholders. The biggest question would be: Why would you want to?

The reason we have a legal requirement to conduct meetings in the open is because closed meetings inherently breed distrust. Any decision produced by a meeting from which the public is purposefully and consciously excluded will be tainted by a cloud of illegitimacy.

Of course, if the real purpose of the Journalism Task Force was to scheme ways to gut the newspaper’s embarrassing coverage of FAU, then secret meetings make sense.

LoMonte and many others wouldn’t be shocked if the JTF was just the latest assault on a student newspaper that’s uncovered uncomfortable truths in the past – like its investigation of FAU’s Board of Trustees that found those 13 overseers of the school’s finances have personally accumulated “three bankruptcy filings, seven foreclosures, 21 tax warrants, and one federal tax lien.”

Now that’s good comedy.


This joke ain’t over.

The punchline here is: College media rarely “win” these battles, but if they always fight with a smile, they’ll never lose. In this millennium alone, FAU has, among other things…

  • tried locking students out of their newsroom
  • illegally frozen the newspaper’s budget
  • fired its adviser
  • threatened the editor with student conduct court if she met with that adviser even off campus

…yet FAU’s student journalists have always gotten the last laugh, then landed good jobs. That’s because you value most what you must fight to keep. And FAU loves to pick a fight.

“If there’s any university in America that has earned zero benefit of the doubt in its treatment of journalists,” LoMonte says, “it’s Florida Atlantic, with its deplorably long rap sheet of stonewalling and harassment.”

So if the students at FAU can win weirdly, you can, too. We’re here to help. Check out SMACK for details.

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.


Click bait

Remember Melissa Click?

She’s the communication professor at the University of Missouri who asked for some “muscle” to oust a student journalist from a campus racism protest.

Now Missouri lawmakers want to muscle her out of a job. On Monday, 100 Republicans in the state’s General Assembly wrote a letter demanding the school fire her. On Tuesday, 115 faculty members wrote a letter defending her.

According to the Kansas City Star, lawmakers said Click’s outburst “served to inflame an already caustic situation that was clearly out of line,” while faculty simply called it “at most a regrettable mistake.”

So should she be fired? You could argue she’s been punished enough by the worldwide web, where she’s been mocked by memes and cartoons that will exist long after she doesn’t. (see below)

But here are three crucial questions. If the answers are all NO, then YES, Click needs to work somewhere else. Like China or Cuba.


1. Is she sorry for what she did?

Or is she just sorry for what’s happened to her since?

A day after she became Internet Enemy No. 1 for trying to muscle out student reporter Mark Schierbecker, Click issued a public apology. But when Schierbecker dropped by her office for a personal apology, he told The Washington Post it didn’t go that well.

“She made no acknowledgement that what she did was assault,” he said. “She told me she had talked to another faculty member who is versed in constitutional law, and she said this professor had told her that it was kind of iffy as to whether faculty was allowed to enforce a perimeter like that.”

If Click still thinks that’s iffy, she should be fired in a jiffy. Otherwise, all she’s learned is: The next time I violate someone’s rights, I need to break their camera first.


2. Did everyone else get the message?

If those 115 faculty members feel Click’s antics were “at most a regrettable mistake,” what’s the least they think it was?

And what about the other 1,290 faculty members who didn’t sign the letter? How many would choose a stronger word than “regrettable”? Like maybe “embarrassing”? Or “alarming”? Or “illegal”?

As these professors know from their own classes, you don’t enforce discipline just to punish one offender. You also do it to send a message to everyone else. Example: If one student flouts your attendance policy and gets away with it, guess how many show up to the next class?

If that’s vital for attendance, surely it’s the same for the First Amendment.

If Click’s punishment is essentially time served, that only make sense if she and her peers have literally learned their (civics) lesson.


3. Will she talk to student media?

Besides doctors who smoke, I can’t think of a professional irony sadder than a communications professor who won’t comment.

As best I can tell, Click hasn’t granted a single interview to any news outlet. The least she can do is sit down with the student newspaper and TV station and talk about what happened.

If Click is truly sorry, and she’s truly an educator, she’ll make this a “teachable moment” for everyone – herself included.


So what does Mark Schierbecker think?

Schierbecker and I exchanged emails, and he sounded more mature than those letter-writing lawmakers and professors. When I asked him if Click should be fired, he replied calmly and deliberatively…

I think she should immediately be suspended pending an investigation. Asking for her to be immediately fired goes too far in my opinion. Usually, there is due process and then a proportional response. I don’t know what the outcome of the investigation should be.

As for the rest of the campus, Schierbecker says, “Many professors seemed to really get it. They were truly horrified by Click’s actions.”

Finally, he reminded me that this isn’t just about him. Other journalists were actually attacked at the protest. But since his video went viral, he became the name.

“Reporters had their gear smashed and women reporters were picked up by the protesters,” Schierbecker says. “One man threw a backpack at a reporter’s face. He didn’t see that as a response that was overkill.”

Lot of that going around these days.


Bad press, hot mess


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…


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.


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?


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.


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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