We have been discussing how student publications are firing writers and editors who write columns espousing dissenting views on police abuse or other subjects. This pattern has repeatedly itself at Wisconsin, Syracuse, and other schools. Student columnists have been formally condemned at schools like Georgetown and both faculty and students have sought to eliminate whole publications at schools like Dartmouth as “incubators of hate.” Now, the editor-in-chief at a student newspaper at Oklahoma State University, Maddison Farris, says that she was forced out due to her writing a column criticizing a mask mandate on campus.
Farris wrote a column for The O’Colly after she was removed from a classroom for not wearing a mask. She noted that Senate Bill 658, affirms that a mask cannot be required within a school setting in Oklahoma. She said that her stance was based on individual choice:
“If I believed that it was just a mask, then, of course, I would simply wear it for an hour or two and then go about my day. But it is more than a mask. It’s control. It’s control over my choices, desires and body. I will not allow any institution to take away my right to decide for myself what is best and to make my own decisions, or to take away the rights and decisions of others.”
One can clearly disagree with this view and courts have upheld school mandates, though state laws can trump such policies or rules. However, this is all part of a larger debate that has deeply divided this nation.
It is the reaction to the column that is so disconcerting. First, the O’Colly’s editorial board added a “correction” to the article that is more of a rebuttal. It states that the column did not tell the “whole story” and proceeds to give the other side. As a practice, such views (signed by the other editors) would have been more properly included in a separate editorial. However, the editors picked up on the trend in social media to use “flags” and “corrections” to label opposing views as misinformation.
I have no problem with the content of what the other editors wrote. Indeed, I believe that it offered a valuable counter perspective on this issue. However, it is not a correction. Moreover, I doubt that all of the newspaper’s past columns were “complete” in presenting the entirety of opposing views. The selective treatment of this column is, for that reason, concerning.
However, the greatest concern is what allegedly occurred next. Farris says that she was confronted in a meeting and effectively forced off the newspaper. She submitted a letter of “forced resignation.”
The “correction” seems ripped from the pages of the New York Times. When Sen. Tom Cotton published an opinion column calling for the use of national guard troops to quell rioting in Washington, he cited a long history in the deployment of such troops by Democratic and Republican presidents. The column was factually correct. However, journalists denounced the column and the protest ultimately led to the removal of the editor as well as a cringing apology from the Times. Notably, the newspaper claimed the same unexplained inaccuracies or errors in the column. It never bothered to respond to some of us who noted that, while we disagreed with Cotton on the policy, the column contained a fair accounting of the history of the use of the underlying law.
Former New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones was one of the journalists who pushed the New York Times to denounce its own publication and promise to curtail columns in the future. In so doing, she railed against those who engage in what she called “even-handedness, both sideism” journalism. Hannah-Jones however later tweeted out an utterly absurd anti-police conspiracy that lacked any factual support. She suggested that the destruction by protesters was actually the work of the police. That type of ridiculous claim (later deleted) by Hannah-Jones did not lead to a call for her resignation or any statement of condemnation from the newspaper or her colleagues. Hannah-Jones now teaches journalism.
Faculty and editors are now actively supporting modern versions of book-burning with blacklists and bans for those with opposing political views. Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll has denounced the “weaponization” of free speech, which appears to be the use of free speech by those on the right. So the dean of one of the premier journalism schools now supports censorship. It is part of a widespread anti-free speech movement. As millions of students are taught that free speech is a threat and that “China is right” about censorship, these values are shaping a new society in their own intolerant images.
The most chilling aspect of this story is how many on left applaud such censorship. A new poll shows roughly half of the public supporting not just corporate censorship but government censorship of anything deemed “misinformation.”
I was also disappointed that the university did not issue a statement over the need for greater tolerance for opposing or dissenting opinions. However, as we have seen in other recent cases, universities are often silent in defense of free speech when conservative students are harassed or sanctioned by other students.
The students of Oklahoma State appear to have learned from professional writers and editors who are now actively excluding or expelling those with dissenting views. There was a successful effort to push writer Andrew Sullivan out of New York Magazine and Vox. Sullivan noted:
And maybe it’s worth pointing out that “conservative” in my case means that I have passionately opposed Donald J. Trump and pioneered marriage equality, that I support legalized drugs, criminal-justice reform, more redistribution of wealth, aggressive action against climate change, police reform, a realist foreign policy, and laws to protect transgender people from discrimination. I was one of the first journalists in established media to come out. I was a major and early supporter of Barack Obama. I intend to vote for Biden in November.
It did not matter. Sullivan reported that colleagues said that they felt unsafe working in the same building with him because he questioned aspects of current protests or demands. As we previously discussed, Bari Weiss was also the victim of such a campaign at the New York Times and now writes on Substack.
As professional journalists embrace advocacy journalism, it is not surprising to see student journalists adopting the same self-destructive values. However, it is disheartening to see the lack of sensitivity or protection for opposing values and views by students. Given the faux correction and later removal, it rings rather hallow when these editors declare:
We welcome any and all opinions offering rebuttal of this column, and do not wish to diminish any opinion. As American citizens, we affirm our belief in the First Amendment and the right as journalists to express our personal opinions no matter if our viewpoint is different from those around us.