I’ve been Ward-Churchilled. In a way.
This week I was scheduled to give a speech at Arkansas State University Mountain Home, a two-year college in the northern part of the state. But several weeks ago, Mick Spaulding, the vice chancellor for development, contacted my speakers bureau and canceled the contract. He said that the decision had been precipitated by material on my personal blog at www.davidcorn.com.
I was peeved by this. The booker at the speakers bureau had called me about a year ago and said that he often tries to coax his speakers to go to ASUMH, which is a good distance from any major airport and which does not have the money to pay the customary speaker fees. Consider this a form of public service, he said. I was reluctant but decided to do him and the school a favor. No good deed goes unpunished.
Several days after Spaulding killed my gig–which was to be part of an ongoing lecture series underwritten by trout fishing resort owners Jim and Jill Gaston–Spaulding’s assistant emailed me the offending material that had appeared on my blog. It was an ad for anti-Bush gear that flashes such witty lines as “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kerry,” “51 percent is NOT a mandate,” “He’s still not my president,” and “Asses of Evil.”
Banned in Arkansas because of a politically-pointed ad on my blog? That sounded fishy to me. I sent Spaulding an email:
Apparently, this [ad] was the only material that affected the decision to cancel the speech. And this causes me to be rather curious about your decision….Now why would this lead to the cancellation of my speaking engagement? I am well-known as a journalist who is critical of President Bush. That is why Fox News hired me as a contributor. It is no secret that I wrote a best-selling book called “The Lies of George W. Bush.”
On my blog, I accept ads from all sorts. Advertisers have included Amnesty International, PBS and the United Church of Christ. I have an open-door policy and post ads from any person or entity, as long as the ad is not obscene or extremely objectionable. In the six months I have been publishing ads on my site, I have not rejected one.
So why would displaying an ad from an outfit peddling anti-Bush gear cause me to be banned from your campus? If this company advertised on CNN, would you not allow Larry King to speak at Arkansas State University Mountain Home?
….Can you please explain what happened?
Spaulding did not reply. A few days later, I resent the email and asked for a response. He then did answer:
The option to cancel our obligation was clearly spelled out in the contract. We followed the letter of the contract, cancelled within the thirty-day grace period, and have paid the [kill] fee that was necessary to close the business agreement.
This was not much of an explanation. I tried once more:
Thank you for responding. I was not questioning your right to cancel the speaking engagement under the terms of the contract. But I was looking for an explanation of the cancellation. Would you be so good as to tell me why you did so?
No, Spaulding essentially said. That is, he did not reply.
Don’t forget about DAVID CORN’s BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on how the media ignored Pope John Paul’s true agenda, Bush’s brush with anti-Catholic bigotry, and a comedy tribute to Hunter S. Thompson.
Am I being too sensitive if I suspect politics is afoot and that the administration of a school located deep in Red State territory pulled the plug on my appearance because of my views? Could a small university in Arkansas that boasts that it “creates an environment that encourages free expression” truly be afraid to have me speak? Hoping to have my fears assuaged, I shared my story with Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times, a fine publication that bills itself as “Arkansas’s newspaper of politics and culture. (See Brantley’s expose of how Wal-Mart wields its mighty influence in Arkansas.) Immediately, Brantley was on the case, pursuing Spaulding. Here’s his report from the paper’s blog:
Vice Chancellor Spaulding didn’t return our first call. We reached him on the second. He said he was in a meeting. He at first professed not to remember anyone named David. After we said Corn had shared his e-mail with ASU, he said, “I’m going to have to get back to you on this. That’s a committee decision. I don’t feel comfortable being the one answering that question.”
Who’s on the committee?
“I don’t have that in front of me.”
Spaulding said that after his meeting was completed, he’d “try to run folks down.” We said we wanted to discuss the political dimension of the issue.
“Political dimension?” Spaulding responded. “You’re going to be disappointed.” So far, he hasn’t called back.
So Spaulding won’t come clean, it seems. He won’t reveal why I was canned, and he won’t disclose the names of the mysterious committee who decided I was too hot for Mountain Home. As far as I know, I’ve never called any victim of a terrorist attack a “little Eichmann.”
Now I’m hoping this will spawn a national controversy. Cable talk shows, radio, angry letters to the Times–you know, the whole megillah. No doubt, such champions of ideological diversity on campuses like radical-turned-rightist David Horowitz will rally to my side. And since ASUMH is a state school, I expect the free-speech-loving legislators of the Arkansas state legislature will want to get involved. Perhaps Representative Tom DeLay and other Republicans ought to consider passing “David’s Law” to protect my constitutionally-protected right to speak out (for a fee).
I had been looking forward to visiting Mountain Home and was intrigued by the prospect of stirring a good political discussion in Bushland. But the closed minds of ASUMH had other plans. Yet it’s not all for naught. Spaulding and his anonymous committee have taught their students a valuable lesson about hypocrisy, cowardice and censorship.
UPDATE, April 7, 2005: The banned-in-Arkansas controversy continues. Students from ASUMH report there’s been something of an uproar on campus over the cancellation of my speaking engagement. In a short interview with the Baxter Bulletin, the chancellor of the school refused to provide an explanation for giving me the heave ho. (Click here.) An Arkansas state legislator contacted me and asked for more information. And David Horowitz has come riding into the storm. He and Sara Dogan, the national campus director of Sudents for Academic Freedom, an outfit Horowitz started, sent a letter to Mick Spaulding, the vice chancellor for development at ASUMH. They wrote:
Dear Dr. Spaulding,
I am the national campus director of Students for Academic Freedom, a student organization dedicated to promoting academic freedom, intellectual diversity, and civility on American university campuses. We currently have chapters at 150 institutions of higher learning nationwide.
It has come to my attention that ASUMH recently cancelled a speech that was to be given by David Corn, a political writer and editor and author of the book “The Lies of George W. Bush.” Corn claims that you told him that the cancellation was brought about because of material on his personal blog www.davidcorn.com which contains ads for anti-Bush apparel, advertisements for his book, and other left-leaning items, which led him to believe that you cancelled his speech due to his leftist political views. He states that he has tried to contact you several times seeking further explanation for the cancellation, but has not been able to obtain a straight answer.
If Mr. Corn is correct that you cancelled the speech due to his outspoken leftist political views, this is a gross violation of the principles of academic freedom which call for free and open discussion on our college campuses. The Academic Bill of Rights proposed by our organization states that “An environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas being an essential component of a free university, the obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature, or other effort to obstruct this exchange will not be tolerated.”
However distasteful Mr. Corn’s views may be to you, he was an invited speaker and has the right to his opinions. It is the responsibility of educational institutions like Arkansas State University Mountain Home to provide their students access to a wide range of views and teach them to respond in a civil and reasoned way. To withdraw an invitation from an invited speaker sends exactly the wrong educational message to students.
We believe that an apology to Mr. Corn is in order and request that your office launch an inquiry to be followed by a public clarification into the reasons why Mr. Corn’s speech was cancelled.
We further recommend that Arkansas State University Mountain Home consider adopting the Academic Bill of Rights to ensure that intellectual diversity and respect for all viewpoints remain guiding principles of the institution.
Oh, to have Horowitz on my side. What a pleasant surprise. I look forward to ASUMH’s reply to him and Dogan. I don’t know if this will turn into a larger controversy. Paul Begala emailed to say that he was going to criticize the school on Crossfire for giving me the heave-ho. But if you want to get involved, feel free to contact ASUMH Chancellor Ed Coulter at email@example.com and ask him why the school told me to take a hike. You might also suggest that he teach his students one of the most valuable lessons anyone can learn: admit when you’ve made a mistake. I’m sure he’s a very nice fellow, so please be polite.
IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON’T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN’S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, “This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research…. [I]t does present a serious case for the president’s partisans to answer…. Readers can hardly avoid drawing…troubling conclusions from Corn’s painstaking indictment.” The Los Angeles Times says, “David Corn’s The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case.” The Library Journal says, “Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations…. Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough.” And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, “I’d like to tell you I’ve read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that’d be a lie.”
For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.