What Would Fair and Balanced Journalism Have Looked Like?
By James F. Tracy
The Palm Beach Post and South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s overall coverage of the December 2017 TracyvFAU trial looks as if it could have been written by the Defendant University’s “Department of Media Relations.” Post and Sun-Sentinel managements recognize how FAU’s multitude of advertising dollars is a key support in their erroneous and uncritical reportage of complex public events and broader operations. With the trial each outlet skewed its reportage and editorial commentary to heavily favor the school, thereby securing for their client a positive verdict in South Florida’s court of public opinion.
One need look no further than the Post and Sun-Sentinel‘s article titles to gather an overview of the TracyvFAU’s editorial thrust:
-“Trial To Begin for Fired FAU Professor, Conspiracy Theorist James Tracy,” Sun Sentinel, November 27, 2017
-“Ex FAU Professor, Conspiracy Theorist James Tracy, Testifies about Firing in Free Speech Case,” Sun Sentinel, November 30, 2017
-“FAU Professor James Tracy Claims School Fired Him for Sandy Hook Rants,” Palm Beach Post, November 30, 2017
-“Ex-FAU Prof on Trial Tries To Downplay Attack on Sandy Hook Parents,” Palm Beach Post, December 1, 2017
-“FAU Prof Wasn’t Fired Because of Sandy Hook Blog, FAU Official Testifies,” Sun Sentinel,December 4, 2017
-“Christie: Tracy-vs-FAU More about Arrogance Than Free Speech, Insubordination,” PalmBeachPost.com, December 5, 2017
-“FAU Prof James Tracy’s Firing ‘Wasn’t a Surprise’ to Him, University Officials Say,” Sun Sentinel, December 5, 2017
-“What It Was Like in the Class of FAU’s Conspiracy-Spinning Professor,” Palm Beach Post, December 8, 2017
-“Claims against FAU by Sandy Hook Denier Headed To Federal Jury Monday,” Palm Beach Post, December 8, 2017
-“Jury Rules against Fired FAU Prof James Tracy in Free Speech Case,” Sun Sentinel, December 11, 2017
In fact, the papers pulled their reporters from the courtroom entirely when crucial testimony was given by Professor Tracy’s colleagues and fellow union officers giving the lie to the central argument of FAU’s million-dollar defense—that Tracy consciously violated a school policy rigorously adhered to by all other faculty and employees.
In reality, the policy was used selectively to target this author and justify his unlawful termination for practicing his free speech on his own time that addressed various matters of public concern.
With the above in mind, here is the story that was never written, and the testimony FAU’s fawning publicity brokers deliberately hid from public view.
FAU Selectively Enforced Policy to Fire James Tracy, Sandy Hook Skeptic Vindicated By Colleagues’ Testimony
Thursday, December 7, 2017
West Palm Beach, Florida
By Earnest Ernst the Reporter
Special to the Palm Beach Post
A federal jury heard testimony from faculty colleagues of fired FAU conspiracy theory professor James Tracy today. The statements of Professors Douglas Broadfield and Christopher Robé call into question the university’s main defense on its Outside Employment/Activities Policy school that officials claim all instructional and administrative employees must follow.
The evidence is especially important because Broadfield and Robé were both high-ranking officers in FAU’s faculty union, the United Faculty of Florida, five years ago when university administrators first disciplined Tracy. At that time FAU argued the conspiracy-minded professor who claimed Sandy Hook was a hoax didn’t have a disclaimer properly positioned on his personal blog.
Several days ago when Tracy was on the witness stand US District Judge Robin Rosenberg once again agreed with FAU attorneys who objected to the jury hearing that two major civil rights organizations, the American Association of University Professors and the Foundation For Individual Rights in Education, wrote letters to FAU’s president in 2013 protesting Tracy’s discipline.
Robé, an Associate Professor in FAU’s School of Communication and Multimedia Studies previously served as FAU’s faculty union president. Taking the witness stand today Robé explained that the school’s Outside Activities Policy was difficult for him and other professors to understand and haphazardly enforced by administrators before and after Tracy’s termination.
Robé and Tracy became colleagues in the same department when Robé joined the FAU faculty in 2004. Like Tracy, he has social media accounts where he freely discusses his professional activities and offers infrequent diatribes about politics. Over the past several years Robé has also published numerous non-scholarly blog posts and articles online. When the film studies scholar was asked by Tracy’s attorney, Matthew Benzion, if he had ever been asked by his superiors to fill out an Outside Employment Form for his online speech conducted on personal time he replied flatly, “No.”
When Robé was further asked if he was ever given “in-person training on how to comply with the conflict of interest/outside activities policy,” Robé again responded, “No.” When Benzion asked the professor if the university’s policy “ever confused you,” he responded, “Absolutely!”
“It seemed to be applied differently at different times,” Robé continued.
I was union president in 2013, and I first became aware of it with [English Department] instructors who were teaching outside at other universities. Quite honestly, FAU was not paying them enough money … and so I became aware of it then, the way it was being applied.
Following Robé, Professor Douglas Broadfield took the stand. Broadfield was a professor in FAU’s Anthropology Department from 2001 to 2014, and is now a research professor at University of Miami. In 2013 he served as the faculty union’s “Contract Enforcement Chair” when Tracy was first disciplined for his online speech by FAU administrators. Later that year Broadfield negotiated a settlement for Tracy with FAU Associate General Counsel Lawrence Glick and Vice Provost Diane Alperin. (Glick presided over Tracy’s firing and inexplicably vacated his lucrative FAU post in April 2016, less than one week after Tracy’s attorneys filed suit.)
When asked by Tracy’s attorney Louis Leo IV if he believed FAU’s Outside Employment Policy was evenly enforced and followed by all university faculty, Broadfield responded, “In my experience with the faculty I had contact with, I don’t think that it was applied evenly across all members of the university.”
When Leo asked Broadfield why he thought this, the former FAU professor responded,
There were faculty who filed outside activity forms for, in particular, paid activities and those certainly seemed like the university had signed off on, but there were also faculty who engaged in outside employment who never filed and they have been known, in my knowledge, by a chair or somebody like that to have been doing outside activity and never told to file or required to file.
Broadfield continued to testify that United Faculty of Florida counseled Tracy to oppose FAU’s discipline in 2013 because it violated Tracy’s First Amendment rights to publish on his personal blog. In 2015 the faculty union abandoned this premise and recommended Tracy comply with the university’s directives and fill out current and retroactive Outside Employment Forms for the blog.
The testimony of Robé and Broadfield contradict FAU’s defense, repeatedly pointed to in previous testimony by school administrators Heather Coltman and Diane Alperin, that all faculty and university staff must comply with the policy. Two days earlier, for example, Coltman testified that Tracy “was a tenured faculty member who had been a president of the union. This wasn’t a surprise, he wasn’t ignorant of his responsibilities.”
Last week FAU marine biology professor Stephen Kajiura testified that he was disciplined by the university in 2016 for repeatedly failing to fill out the Outside Employment/Activity Forms reporting his numerous combined business ventures and research activities.
Unlike Tracy, Kajiura received a five-day suspension without pay. Yet from the witness box Kajiura went on to tell the jury how “there were a lot of other things” FAU administrators inflicted on the professor and his students that were excluded from documents the court permitted on record. “They denied a Federally awarded grant to me, shut down my research, which impeded my duty to do the job and impacted the students to complete their graduate education,” Kajiura said.
In September 2015, just three months before FAU terminated Tracy, numerous faculty members also complained to FAU President John Kelly and Provost Gary Perry in a public meeting of the FAU Faculty Senate that the Outside Employment Policy was vague and confusing. After strong objections by FAU attorneys to suppress a recording and transcript of the confrontation submitted by Tracy’s attorneys, Judge Rosenberg ruled the lengthy and contentious exchange was “hearsay,” and that the professors were not capable of determining whether the policy was “confusing” or “being applied correctly.” This forbade any mention of the contentious exchange before the jury.
Closing arguments for both sides are scheduled for next Monday, after which the case will be submitted to the jury. Since Rosenberg threw out most of the case and granted individual FAU Defendants immunity, Tracy will only be entitled to reinstatement and back pay in the event the jury decides that Tracy’s speech was a motivating factor in the termination.
End of story.