In the latter portion of January, The Independent published some opinion pieces that raised a bit of ire in the community. In particular were some admittedly unabashed responses to the women’s marches taking place across the county. What is disconcerting in some of the responses is that those who have taken offense seem to fail to understand that the very protections that the women’s demonstrations fall under are the same as the ones that allow a free press to publish articles that go against the popular grain.
In addition to the responses on social media, however, some have taken it a step further by actively engaging in attempts to sabotage The Independent’s ability to publish at all by encouraging advertisers to join them in a ban of the paper.
To be clear, The Independent maintains no claim to guaranteed business in a free market economy. Everyone’s money is green so far as we are concerned, and should a business opt not to advertise, that is their own choice. But know that attempts to dictate content by such means are not only unpersuasive to the publisher, Josh Warburton, and our editorial staff; they are also the foreboding mark of a community or a society opening the door to something they might not perhaps intend to: That of one where free speech is limited or even controlled by advertisers or, worse, legislators and even administrations of public institutions such as Dixie State University.
Last year, DSU adjunct Bruce Bennett was engaging me and a few friends on my personal Facebook page. Arguing ardently for his position, he made the assertion that he knew what he was talking about on the subject moreso than those who contended his arguments by stating that he had a degree in criminal law.
I’ve known Bruce on a casual basis for some time and find him a thoughtful and accomplished fellow. I was surprised that in addition to some of his accomplishments he had attended law school, and I asked him on the thread about it. He qualified the remark by stating that he had taken a criminal justice course or two at a junior college and that while he had been planning to attend law school, he eventually changed majors. He went on to say that taking such courses were prerequisites to attending law school. Both are patently false.
I suggested that perhaps he should word it a little differently as it was misleading. I later wrote in the same thread that in lieu of the fact that he was a would-be professor, i.e. an adjunct at a public university and perhaps one seeking a tenure track, he was perhaps out of line a little. Maybe a lot. Because it is common knowledge in academia that there are two cardinal don’ts: Do not misrepresent your work, and do not misrepresent your qualifications. In some cases, such things can be grounds not only for discipline but for dismissal.
Taking offense to being called out on this, rather than acquiesce to the overreaching implications of his statements, he went on the offensive, writing Warburton and demanding that if I did not publicly apologize to him for slandering him he would pull advertising from St. George Musical Theater and that he would furthermore wage a campaign of sorts to encourage other business owners to do the same.
In another seemingly related event, the public relations department of DSU made similar threats to Warburton, even inferring that it was under the directive of the university president, Biff Williams.
At our monthly editors’ meeting late last year, we discussed these threats coming from the members of DSU’s adjunct and administration, and the consensus was that caving to such threats would open the door to forever having our content dictated by such people. We declined to cave, and since then neither Bennett’s affiliation nor the school have advertised with us.
And yet, here we still are.
I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating: Careful what you ask for, Mr. Bennett and those who think like you. In Bennett’s case in particular, the audacity of being caught in a patent lie on a Facebook thread leading to a malicious attempt to go after the livelihood of a writer and his publication defies the core principles laid out in the First Amendment. Furthermore, it defies the core principles of public university where freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas are to be championed, not used for bargaining chips to dissuade people from publishing articles of interest to the general public of a free society. This is something a person espousing a criminal law degree should no doubt know.
Again, and with emphasis, everyone’s money is green in a free market economy, and the choice to advertise with a publication is individual to a business. If one does not like what we are publishing, one is free not to read it. On a personal level, one is free to even encourage others not to read it.
But when members of a public university engage in such behavior, it might be reasonable to assert that it is crossing a line, and perhaps not just an ethical one but a legal one as well. First Amendment retaliation comes to mind.
One last thought in the form of an invitation: I stand by the idea that what I am attempting to do in my own articles is incite rigorous dialogue on matters of consequence. The Independent has been and remains a platform for such discussions. We invite and in fact welcome everyone, no matter their political leanings, to engage in the form of letters to the editor, guest articles, and of course responses in social media. And we were more than pleasantly surprised at how many people responded this last week for sure. We published them, one and all.
But be wary of those who attempt to curtail free speech. Especially those who hold the public trust as do the faculty and staff of our public universities.
See you out there.
The viewpoints expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of The Independent.
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