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The President of Columbia University is now in Davos telling the world America should no longer have a free press 1/24/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Free press.

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, last seen providing Iranian press-suppressing dictator Ahmadinejad a microphone, a prestigious forum, and a room full of tyrant-cheering students, is now in famously neutral Switzerland for his final surrender. Representing the University with America’s top-rated journalism school, he thinks it’s a terrific idea for the government to step-in to support Old Media to help them with their business woes. Yes, that government, the one the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment, protecting our rights to freely speak and publish words critical of which unchecked power? Enron? Wal-Mart? You might think so from talking to journalists and Davos elitists, who don’t seem to know their Marx from their Jefferson. No, the answer is the federal government!

At least there’s now evidence I am not alone — a few highly influential people who are not mind-numbed journalism robots get it. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch said “the idea is both dangerous and absurd…Freedom of the press is one of the most important checks on government. If they’re paying the bills, the press is no longer independent.” Buzzmachine’s Jeff Jarvis said he absolutely did not support it. If New Media types like Arrington and Jarvis understand the importance of the First Amendment and are willing to defend it, and Old Media will not, that’s the best reason I’ve heard so far to let the mainstream media go to its final reward. (H/T Adrian Monck).


1. Michael W. Perry - 1/24/08

I heard President Bollinger when he was in Seattle recently to speak with Columbia alumni. I came away distinctly unimpressed with his character or his commitment to free speech.

Particularly glaring was what he said about the disruptions of a speech by Jim Gilchrist, an opponent of illegal immigration, that took place at Columbia in October of 2006. A year and a half later, the impact of what happened then still seems to be echoing through the school’s alumni.

1. For the students who disrupted the speech, he talked rather vaguely about them being given “formal” academic discipline. I thought: “What does that mean?” It sounds serious, but if it really was commensurate with what they had done, why hadn’t he been more specific? After all, what those students were doing was exactly what Hitler’s Brownshirts did in early 1930s Germany, violently silencing opposing points of view. No college student should be allowed to get away with that.

It didn’t take me more than a few minutes online to discover that President Bollinger was misleading the alumni who were present. That formal discipline was the softest the university could give, a mere note placed in their student file. I got in more trouble in college for some innocent hacking of a campus computer.

2. Contrast that with the punishment Columbia meted out to Gilchrist’s supporters, who apparently scuffled with those doing the disruption, even though Bollinger himself admitted it was unclear which of the two sides was more at fault. They are now permanently banned from the Columbia campus. I can only assume that means they can never attend class there or become a student. Rather harsh, to say the least.

Now contrast the two responses. Those who acted first with the disruption, silencing a speaker invited by a student group, get something less than a slap on the wrist. Those who tried to allow the speaker to continue, standing up for free speech, are permanently banned from Columbia. Given the treatment of the second group, the first should have been expelled.

Of course, Bollinger isn’t the only one at Columbia with an anemic view of free speech. Since trouble at Gilchrist’s speech was expected, the fact that the university wasn’t prepared to contain the disruption indicates that at least some in the administration didn’t mind seeing someone with viewpoints are not fashionable at Columbia silenced. Columbia faculty, we should remember, don’t have to compete with illegal immigrants for jobs, but they are likely to be consumers of the cheap labor that results.

One final remark. Seeing someone in person tells you a lot about them. I came away with the distinct impression that President Bollinger is not evil. He is simply weak but ambitious, the sort of person who’s blown about by any wind. His inability to deal forthrightly with what happened at Columbia when speaking to these alumni suggests that.

Even his controversial introduction of Ahmadinejad has a weak, bullying flavor to it. He told the alumni that Iran’s leader was given only an hour’s notice about the content of his remarks. That meant that his “demands” for Ahmadinejad to explain himself were a mere charade for public consumption. If he’d actually wanted answers, he’d have given Ahmadinejad more time to prepare.

Decades ago, G. K. Chesterton described Bollinger well when he criticized an Anglican clergyman who was a champion of then fashionably eugenics. Dean Inge, he said, is the sort of person who wants to “make good.” That trait, he went on to explain, is the chief ill of modern society. Many of our ills trace back these people. They’re what C. S. Lewis called “chestless men.” Open them up, and there’s nothing inside but a hollow shell.

–Michael W. Perry, author of Chesterton on War: Battling the Ideas and Movements that Led to Nazism and World War II (out in February)

2. Right Angles » Blog Archive » Old Media, what good is it? - 1/25/08

[…] The Future of News‘ Steve Boriss points out that New Media acolytes Michael Arrington and Jeff Jarvis condemn the idea as absurd, and he adds this stinging coda: If New Media types like Arrington and Jarvis understand the importance of the First Amendment and are willing to defend it, and Old Media will not, that’s the best reason I’ve heard so far to let the mainstream media go to its final reward. […]

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