Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bill O'Reilly Hit Piece on Fordham University

Did you see the classic, textbook piece of propaganda Bill O'Reilly did about Fordham University last night?   Here's a link if you missed it.  O'Reilly starts off saying Fordham "banned" Ann Coulter from a speaking engagement on the campus, then he explains what in fact happened (she wasn't banned), and wraps up with Jesse Watters in front of Fordham with a slapdash compilation of video interviews with students taken out of context to make them look bad and have Fox's viewers get a laugh at their expense.

Here are the facts of the Ann Coulter matter:  Fordham University's Republican Club, a student group, invited her to speak.  Fr. Joseph McShane, President of Fordham University, wrote the Club and university community a strong letter criticizing the invitation of Coulter to Fordham.   The Republican Club considered the points made in the letter and decided to rescind its invitation.

Note that the University President has no direct power over students, not even indirect power.  The president doesn't grade students, or evaluate their progress towards graduation.  The first is done by professors, and the second by professors and deans.  One dean in particular - the Dean of Students - could have banned Coulter from campus, or refused to allow the proposed student event - but that did not happen.   The students decided not to invite her.

No one's First Amendment rights were violated.  No government official prevented Coulter from speaking.   Fr. McShane's expression of opinion not only violated no one's rights, but was morally justified.   Presidents of universities should speak out about issues affecting the university.  And, in fact, he was right to be concerned about Ann Coulter.  She has called Barack Obama a "retard," John Edwards a "faggot," and characterized our immigration policy as designed to reduce the percentage of white people in the American population.   The First Amendment protects her right to say and write such things without government interference.   It does not give her the right to say that in a university community, which strives to teach tolerance and respect for diversity.   One could argue that Fordham University would have indeed been justified in banning Coulter, or any purveyor of epithets and racist reasoning.  And, yet, Fordham showed tolerance by not banning Coulter.

Why then did O'Reilly characterize the Coulter affair as a banning?   Because, like all clever propagandists, he knows that big lies stick, even after the purveyor of the lie quietly explains what actually happened.   O'Reilly last night explained that Coulter wasn't actually banned, because he wants to be on record as presenting the facts when he's called on lying about Coulter being banned.  Like all propagandists, he wants both the benefit of his lie and protection from its consequences.

As for the Watters piece, we've seen this technique over and over again on Fox: ambush people on the street, ask them questions, call upon them to give details, and then splice it all together to show how uniformed they are.   But the young woman who said Coulter was a racist was right (she also happens to be one of my students).   She couldn't cite an example on the spot, but she was right nonetheless.   Don't believe me?  Look up Coulter's article on Wikipedia.  Even Watters could have done that, had he been interested in the truth.

The facts in this case have been out there for a month, regarding Coulter's invitation to Fordham, and longer regarding her abusive language.  But Fox and O'Reilly are not interested in truth or even facts.  Poorly researched and reasoned - O'Reilly at one point wrongly says that a public university would have gotten into big trouble had it banned Coulter (not true) - O'Reilly's segments have devolved from being pointed, politically abrasive presentations, which are valuable in our body politic, to sad examples of how to bungle and mispresent a story for a quick round of ignorant applause.

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