Ethics Dunce + Incompetent Elected Official = Censorship In North Carolina

Thank-you. I see no reason to believe that your funding is in any jeopardy, by the way."

Thank-you. I see no reason to believe that your funding is in any jeopardy, by the way.”

Central Carolina Community College pulled the plug on a public affairs  talk show airing on its radio station after a legislative assistant for State Rep. Mike Stone complained about an online post by one of the show’s hosts, criticizing the  Sanford, N.C. Republican.  Susan Phillips, Stone’s legislative assistant, wrote the school’s president, T.E. “Bud” Marchant, with pointed questions about the program’s affiliation with the school, funding sources, and budget.  Central Carolina Community College is one 58 community colleges in North Carolina that depend on the  legislature for funding, and Stone’s message was received loud and clear. Marchant shut down the show, known as “The Rant,” two days later. He also denied that Stone’s interference had anything to do with it.

Sure.

There shouldn’t be any question over what happened here. An elected official in a supposedly democratic nation decided to abuse his position and power as well as violate his oath of office  by using veiled threats and intimidation to stifle Constitutionally protected criticism of his job performance, and a craven educator caved to his pressure, violating his duty of respecting academic freedom and standing against efforts by the state to stifle free speech and political dissent. Marchant, if he had even a rudimentary backbone, would have told Stone’s minion to back off and reported this clumsy attempt at extortion to the area’s news media. Stone, if he had any integrity or respect for the founding principles of the United States, would have taken “The Rant’s” host’s criticism like an adult and a believer in free speech, and responded with a defense or a rebuttal, not by leaning on the radio station’s management. As for Marchant’s incredible claim that Stone’s complaints and the show’s demise were unrelated, even if that were true, his creating the appearance of censoring campus speech in response to government disapproval would be nearly as offensive as censorship itself, because it would still have the effect of chilling First Amendment rights.

I’m certain, considering what appears to be the generally low quality of state legislators across the country (which figures, given the abysmal quality of national legislators), that this kind of thing occurs far more frequently than we know. Let’s see if Stone’s bedrock, conservative supporters are sufficiently offended by his efforts to use government power to muzzle adverse opinion, and send him on a new career path. My guess? This incident won’t make any difference to his election chances at all, if voters like Stone’s politics and believe the radio host is a nettlesome lefty. We are constantly told how much of the country is willing to dispense with the Second Amendment, as if that proves that amendment is archaic. Sincere public support for the First Amendment is similarly shaky.

All right, let us agree that both legislator and college president are unqualified for their positions by virtue of their abandonment of their ethical obligations in their respective roles—Stone’s duty to respect free speech and observe proper limits on government power, Marchant’s duty to protect academic freedom and oppose government efforts to stifle free expression. That still doesn’t justify the elitist coverage of this story by Jonathan Turley, whose blog post first alerted me to it. For some reason, the noted civil rights expert and law professor believes that it is Stone’s wan academic credentials and humble work experience that explain his bullying tactics. Why else would Turley feel it is germane to note that Stone lists his education as ‘“Attended, Accounting, Central Carolina Business” and lists his experience as “Business Owner, O’’Connell’s Grocery Store”’ ? Why is any of that relevant? The law school professor is evidently a bigot, and believes that one’s ethical instincts and character are directly proportional to one’s degrees and work experience.

Rep. Stone is a citizen of the United States, and like every citizen, should be presumed to know about the Four Freedoms whether he graduated from Harvard or the School of Hard Knocks. There are plenty of well-credentialed bullies, fools and ignoramuses in elected office. It is sufficient to judge Stone by what he did; Turley’s implied ridicule of his educational and work background is a cheap shot, and reflects badly on the commentator, not his target.

_____________________________

Pointer: Res Ipsa Loquitur

Facts: NC Policy Watch

Graphic: Pozniak

13 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce + Incompetent Elected Official = Censorship In North Carolina

  1. I would have to say that Marchant is a coward. It also points out a problem with the community college system in that it is administered as part of the State Board of Education instead of part of the UNC system (which has buffers against all but the worst undue political pressure). If they were part of the UNC system, he could have gone to the chancellor with his concerns and I am almost positive that the chancellor would have backed him. The chancellor’s former mentor once resigned his position as vice-chancellor in protest over unreasonable political pressure.

  2. Unless you take the position that it is ethical for government employees to use government resources to make partisan political statements using the name of government agencies this is not so clear cut an issue.

    The points you missed which confuse the issue:
    1) the radio station is affiliated with the college’s academic curriculum
    2) the radio station is funded by the college as part of the academic program and not (as many college stations are) out of student activity fees
    3) students get course credit for working at the station including hosting shows
    4) the show was not a student hosted show, but was hosted by people formerly from the local newspaper
    5) the “blog post” was written on the show’s blog which is hosted by the college

    IF it were a post on a blog unaffiliated with the school, by a student, not using the show/station’s name and the station was a student-run, student-funded radio station then this post would be spot on. But; given that it was a post by an (apparently unpaid) employee of the school on a blog affiliated with the school which has the schools name on every page, using academic resources for political advocacy; the issue is not so clear. One might even think that Rep. Stone was justified in asking questions about the show’s affiliation with the school. One might also wonder if Marchant was making a reasonable judgement that a show not being hosted by students (or even local newspeople) might not be the best use of academic resources.

    • NO. It doesn’t matter. This is rationalization par excellence. Academic freedom includes political advocacy. A school may certainly not suppress political advocacy or content-based opinion, which is what The Fire concerns itself with. Whether it is a student, school radio station or a teacher organizing a teach-in doesn’t matter.

      If the school president, absent outside pressure from one who cannot exercise such pressure without suppressing speech, independently decided that the school’s station shouldn’t support the radio show, that wouldn’t fine. That’s not how it appears, and the appearances matter. He caved to an impermissible threat,

      • So a politician (in this case Rep Stone) is unable to ever question abuse of government resources if speech is involved because it might appear to be exerting undue influence? That seems pretty harsh. Or that there is an ethical duty to allow unethical behavior to continue if the means by which it is brought to one’s attention might be seen as caving into an impermissible threat? Appearances matter, but one also cannot permit unethical behavior to continue simply because of fear of being seen as acting wrongly, despite your claim otherwise – which is more unethical appearing to cave to impermissible pressure or allowing laws to be broken and ethics trashed out of fear of being seen in the wrong light? What appearances should Marchant be more concerned about – the appearance of shutting down non-student speech unnecessary for the school or the appearance of the school being involved in illegal political advocacy?

        Sorry Jack, Rep Stone’s “impermissible threat” was two e-mails asking about the affiliation of the show with the school. The closest thing to an actual “threat” of using the rep.s office against the school was the question in the second e-mail asking what show fulfilled the FCC public interest requirement if the show had already been canceled. There may be a veiled threat in asking about the show’s affiliation with the school, but given the nature of that affiliation it is hardly impermissible to raise those questions when there is a question of unethical behavior – the station is run by the school, not the students and the show’s hosts are not students but (apparently unpaid) employees of the school representing the school. If student’s were involved or this this were not a government school it would be one thing, but these are not students and this is a government school – it is wrong to allow government employees to use government resources to advocate politics, period.

        • So a politician (in this case Rep Stone) is unable to ever question abuse of government resources if speech is involved because it might appear to be exerting undue influence?

          Anytime the government looks into something due to constitutionally protected behavior, there’s an abuse. This should be a bright line rule. It’s like fruit of the poisoned tree.

          Sorry Jack, Rep Stone’s “impermissible threat” was two e-mails asking about the affiliation of the show with the school.

          You’re misrepresenting the situation. The first email was a link to the criticism of Stone (not even the show generally) and a question of whether the show was linked to the university.

          The follow up email asked detailed questions about this particular show, and nothing about the program generally. The legislator contacted the boss of someone who criticized him, directly references the criticism, and then starts talking about funding of said boss? That’s a textbook implicit threat.

          it is wrong to allow government employees to use government resources to advocate politics, period.

          Did you ignore Jack’s comment about academic freedom?

          • Sure he did. Because his point is ridiculous—state supported schools, faculty, courses, newspaper and radio stations can take any political positions they want to, and have, and must not suffer any penalties for doing so. Max apparently doesn’t recall Berkeley’s rather strident protests against Nixon and the Vietnam war.

            You beat me to the main point, tgt: no government official should ever contact a school regarding the content of protected speech—it is always a threat, and where legislative funding is involved, as here, the threat is explicit.

  3. What’s up with Republican North Carolina legislators recently: trying to create a state religion, trying to vaguely criminalize pit bull ownership, and this.

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