Chicago Tribune journalist Eric Zorn is not going to speak at DePaul University after the student newspaper condemned him for “racism.” The students wrote that Zorn should not participate in a “Tough Times for Local Journalism” panel because he warned against making snap judgments on the controversial shooting of Adam Toledo by a Chicago police officer. Zorn however wrote (below) a blistering response to the school and its editors over the cancel campaign.
We previously discussed the case of Adam Toledo which was subject to multiple investigations with no criminal charges brought against the officer, who returned to service with the Chicago Police Department. Zorn is not the only person targeted for raising countervailing facts over the shooting, including a prosecutor was disciplined for noting that Toledo was armed before the shooting.
For his part, Zorn encouraged readers to wait to see the evidence, particularly the bodycam footage. That was unacceptable to some and led to Steven Thrasher, the Daniel H. Renberg Chair of social justice in reporting at Northwestern, to attack him for waiting to see the evidence as a journalist.
After Zorn wrote that we need to examine the evidence, including the videotape, he “was branded a racist and a monster whose own children should be killed so I’d know how it feels.” He specifically discusses the attacks from Professor Thrasher who tweeted that he was canceling his Tribune subscription because “there is no space in a newspaper for arguing for the murder of a child, and that it’s ‘never too early’ to think they are worthy of murder.”
When Zorn later wrote to Thrasher about the unfairness of his remarks and the calls from many that he should be fired for wanting to see the evidence, Thrasher responded: “Your words make the murder of children more likely, and I have no interest in you, your unethical nature, your cynical worldview, or in communicating with you.”
Then came the invitation to discuss the challenges for local media at DePaul. The students writing for the school paper followed the example of Thrasher in denouncing the invitation for a “racist” like Zorn due to his coverage of stories like the Toledo and Trayvon Martin shootings.
Sonal Soni and Nadia Hernandez wrote that “It is insensitive and intimidating to expect students of color to confront Zorn at the in-person event. This decision puts BIPOC students in an uncomfortable position as they may be apprehensive to approach the predominantly white panelists with their concerns.”
DePaul has a long history of yielding to such campaigns, often citing security concerns to cancel speakers.
In his column, Zorn responded to the students. He specifically responded to editors at The DePaulia, who said that he was “terrified of being ‘cancelled’… (and of) engaging in conversation.” He asked them to send him the questions that they were referencing. They declined to do so and simply said that The DePaulia staff has “taken this as a learning experience and are hoping to move on. Hope you can do the same.” The faculty advisor went a little further and told Zorn that Soni and Hernandez “understand what they did wrong and are moving on,” adding “they are students and will learn from their experience.”
Zorn did not buy it:
In journalism you don’t get to defame someone as a racist and then, when called upon to defend that ugly accusation, simply say you’re moving on from a “learning experience.” You don’t get to do that any more than a hit-and-run motorist can drive blithely away from striking a pedestrian while noting that he’s had a “learning experience” about roadway safety. …
Sorry not to be moving on, as requested, but I’m not going to cede my reputation and good name to anyone who makes a public stink about what they think I wrote rather than what I actually wrote and who tries to deny me the opportunity to speak to a willing audience.
The fact is that these students already had their learning experience from academics like Thrasher and others in journalism. Writers, editors, commentators, and academics have embraced rising calls for censorship and speech controls, including President-elect Joe Biden and his key advisers.
This movement includes academics rejecting the very concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open advocacy. Columbia Journalism Dean and New Yorker writer Steve Coll has denounced how the First Amendment right to freedom of speech was being “weaponized” to protect disinformation. In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Stanford journalism professor, Ted Glasser, insisted that journalism needed to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” He rejected the notion that the journalism is based on objectivity and said that he views “journalists as activists because journalism at its best — and indeed history at its best — is all about morality.” Thus, “Journalists need to be overt and candid advocates for social justice, and it’s hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.”
Figures like Nikole Hannah-Jones have been celebrated for declaring that
“all journalism is activism” and media outfits like National Public Radio now allow reporters to actively participate in protests.
In the end, the campaign succeeded. Other students will not be able to hear the views of Zorn and these students will not be “apprehensive” over the appearance of someone with opposing views. That could be what they have “learn[ed] from their experience.”
Here is his reply on Substack: Zorn Posting