Thursday, July 14, 2011

Breitbart and Loesch Attempt to Reanimate Zombie Lies About UMSL/UMKC

Now that their smear campaign against SEIU has embarrassingly fallen apart, Andrew Breitbart and Dana Loesch are attempting to revitalize another failed attempt to smear a St. Louis institution. If you recall, Loesch and Breitbart shamelessly pushed the idea that professors at UMSL and UMKC were "advocating violence" in their labor studies class. After Media Matters and Crooks and Liars exposed the fact that these videos were heavily edited, the student who leaked the videos, Phil, wrote a post at Big Government attempting to change the subject from the dishonest edits to his objections to the course content. Needless to say, downgrading from claiming that professors were "advocating violence" back to the standard right-wing attacks on academic freedom was not very impressive, and the whole thing was a huge blow to the credibility of Loesch, Breitbart, and the student.

Now Phil is back with new allegations, attempting to spin emails obtained in a freedom of information request into a grand conspiracy. The whole thing might just be an attempt to distract from the embarrassing Gladney verdict, but it can be fairly easily responded to, and I do so here.

First, Phil claimed that university officials were "conspiring to punish" him. He admitted leaking all 30 hours of video of the course to a number of his "friends" (whom he doesn't name, naturally). The video, including out-of-context clips of other students making comments in class, was later posted on youtube without the permission of any of the other students. This at least appeared to be a violation of the other students' privacy rights, since they had the expectation of being allowed to speak freely in class without their comments being broadcast to the world, as well as the course Acceptable Use Policy and copyright law. People pay tuition money to attend class; you obviously cannot just hand out 30 hours of video of the entire course for free. In other words, Phil sure appeared to violate the rules of UMSL and potentially the law, and the administrators were discussing the appropriate response to him violating the rules. Along those lines, they said such controversial things as:
Clearly the AUP was violated as was the copyright.
- UMKC Vice Provost Mary Lou Hines Fritts
If he has violated the policies,he should be barred from the use of our campus technology in the future.
- UMSL Provost Glen Cope
Also, do you know the name of the student who assisted ripping the videos? If he/she is a student registered at UMSL, then we would like to proceed with student conduct actions relative to the rules that have been broken (appropriate usage, etc).
- UMSL Provost Glen Cope

The administrators were discussing whether they should punish a student who appeared to have violated university rules. This is what Phil calls "conspiring to punish" him.

Phil also claims that the school "no longer wanted to talk" to him after he showed up with an attorney because "they discovered they couldn't bully a powerless student." In the absence of any evidence, Phil apparently decides to pretend that he can divine the motives and inner thoughts of university officials, and so completely invents a narrative via his imagination. I can't claim to know why they dropped the investigation either, but this was included in his documents:
As you are no longer a student at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis, please disregard my latter dated May 5, 2011.
-UMSL Assistant to the Vice Provost D'Andre Braddix - June 9

Now it's my understanding that Phil's apparent violations of the rules would not affect his grade in the class, but rather his future privileges. But since he was no longer a student at UMSL (having graduated from Wash U with credits from the UMSL class), the other disciplinary actions against him would have been meaningless. So that's a perfectly good explanation for why they dropped the investigation that doesn't need to rely on any unfounded assumptions about secret, diabolical motivations of university officials.

Another allegation of Phil was that the university was "relying" on liberal blogs for their information. He also suggested that UMSL Provost Glen Cope didn't watch all of the videos. His evidence for that claim? The following:
I would not be sure of the veracity of what he says, given the video experience and my viewing of videos from the class. I've reviewed videos from the class, and so have people from UMKC. There is nothing in the content of the class, though quite controversial, that if[sic] inappropriate for a political science/labor studies class. People may object to many things that are taught and discussed in many classes if they had the opportunity to do so, since universities cover controversial subjects. this is truly an academic freedom issue.
- UMSL Provost Glen Cope

Breitbart flunky (and failed politician) Joel Pollak managed to squeeze this ridiculous interpretation out of the statement:
If she had seen all of the videos, Cope would have said so, and would have been certain whether Phil was telling the truth or not.
Actually, Phil said things in his blog post that were questions of interpretation and also referred to things said out of class, so the claim that "she would be certain" about Phil's testimony is false and lazy analysis.

Pollak further cites this quote as evidence that the university was getting their information from "liberal blogs:"
Media Matters did our work for us in showing how it's edited.
- UMSL Senior Vice Chancellor Ron Gossen

But this quote was not referring to reviewing the evidence, but rather the presentation of the evidence. Media Matters had done the work of producing a video that showed how the original quotes were taken out of context. The University did not need to rely on Media Matters to see whether the videos were misleadingly edited since anyone with a functioning brain could see that. However, even after knowing that, the videos had to be presented to show the evidence.

The other "evidence" that the university was "relying" on "liberal blogs" was simply that they had sent out links to posts at Crooks and Liars and Media Matters. But the university had also sent out links to articles at Big Journalism and Big Government, and there was no evidence that any of these blogs influenced how they approached the situation.

One last note: Phil took issue with one of the emails saying that he has a history of this kind of thing. He claims he doesn't. I don't know if he does or not, but I will say that he participated in the gulag display where James O'Keefe attempted to smear Washington University officials with secretly recorded and edited video.

But I'll agree that it would be a mistake to assume that Phil took the class for the sole purpose of sabotaging it. However, the real question is whether he broke the rules of the course or the law, and that is precisely what the officials were looking into.

And, furthermore, all of this is a distraction from the real issue that Breitbart and Loesch deceptively edited video and audio to put inflammatory words in the mouths of the course instructors, and that Phil allowed this dishonest information to fester until it was exposed as a hoax.


  1. Margaret PhillipsJuly 14, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    Thanks for this, Adam. And I hope it's true that media held back at first partly because they are getting wise to the Breitbart phenomenon.

    It's true that the chancellor and provost of UMSL came through like troopers by condemning the lies and deceptive editing, and inviting Don Giljum back, but that was after an awful lot of student and faculty organizing, quickly, right at exam time when most are snowed under.

    Thanks again.
    Margaret Phillips

  2. You use the term flunky to describe one of Breitbart's underlings. I believe the official, correct term to use would be "toady".