Some Reflections on the Long Lost Chum I Barely Know
By James F. Tracy
I recently noted that an unknown party was linking somewhat inflammatory and misleading articles focusing on this author to my Facebook profile. After doing some modest investigation I came to find that the individual behind the posts was none other than Michael Koretzky, the self-appointed press advisor to FAU’s student newspaper, University Press (UP).
This was not the first time Mr. Koretzky’s blog posts came to our attention. In 2015 a colleague remarked that Koretzky was attacking me on his various social media sites, sometimes camouflaging the diatribes under various nom de plumes. After being the focus of so many broadsides by major media outlets, however, I dismissed the commentaries out-of-hand as likely ill-informed, amateurish, perhaps even dishonest. Only time would prove me correct.
The Press Advisor Who Came to Dinner
A fitting narrative to describe Koretzky’s two-decade long affair with FAU is Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s 1939 Broadway play, The Man Who Came to Dinner. The story centers on an obnoxious showbiz personality invited to sup with a prominent midwestern family as a publicity stunt.
Upon his arrival he injures himself on the family’s icy front steps and insists on taking up residence in both their both home and lives to recuperate. As the story goes, the radio host never leaves, soon threatening the family with litigation for his fall, or should they dare seek an outright eviction.
For two decades Koretzky has been the self-appointed press advisor to FAU’s UP, run out of Florida Atlantic’s student union and funded by student government fees. A self-proclaimed proponent of the First Amendment and press freedom, Koretzky worked as a freelancer, founded a handful of publications, and presently operates a personal finance website, Debt.com. In 2004 Koretzky was accused by FAU’s student government of ethical violations stemming from his involvement with the UP, and fined several thousand dollars.
Undeterred, he returned to the student paper shortly thereafter. An active member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Koretzky, 53, has become an undeniable presence in the national student press community, further honing his persona as news industry businessman masquerading in Che Guevara chic among student journalists.
From this perch he descends upon various college press conventions to fire off self-deprecating one liners while levying savage critiques of fledgling journalists and their newspapers, a practice comparable to shooting half-dead fish in a barrel.
Attention journalists: It’s awards season. If you’re entering a journalism contest, read this first. Because here’s how the judging really works. https://t.co/TxGBdbrsvM
— koretzky (@koretzky) December 26, 2018
Student Press Advisor as Psychoanalyst
What is most peculiar (and disturbing) for this author is the fact that Michael Koretzky claims to have a unique inside perspective on my academic career and firing from Florida Atlantic because of his alleged personal relationship with me. In his blogged reflections he and I were somehow close associates at FAU, with me confiding in him as a trusted peer and friend.
In fact, I’ve never spoken more than a few hundred words one-on-one with this person. I would have no reason to since I was soon to find that he was neither a student, fellow faculty member, or administrator. He is an unsalaried volunteer at FAU’s student paper.
What’s unsettling about this is that Koretzky, the purportedly inveterate truth-teller, embellished if not spun our relationship out of whole cloth, presenting it to his advisees and the world as much more than it actually was.
Koretzky’s knowledge of me has mostly been acquired vicariously through the journalism students who’ve taken my classes while writing part-time for the University Press. On occasion, I would receive an email or note from Koretzky, hand delivered by a UP writer, asking that she or he be excused to attend an out-of-town press-related function. I honored such requests without exception.
One of my few direct encounters with Koretzky occurred in the early 2000s when FAU journalism instructor Robert Bailyn and Koretzky invited me to participate in the UP’s annual selection process for the paper’s next managing editor.
I recall asking each of the three candidates if they subscribed to or read the Chronicle of Higher Education. When each responded, “No,” I then inquired how they could ever be able to understand the many issues that would cultivate the interest of the diverse readerships of a campus community, apart from what UP writers were accustomed to focusing on—sports, partying, and student government controversies.
I was never invited to participate again, and surmised that Koretzky was likely insulted by my remarks and questions, and thus vied against my future involvement. That’s the extent of our interaction. I’ve never seen fit to have a coffee or break bread with him. Nor have we been guests in each other’s homes.
According to Koretzky, however, we once “bonded,” and 15 years later he asserts he knows me so well that he’s able to psychoanalyze me and my entire professional life via his blog, “Journo-terrorist.”
“A few months after Tracy’s arrival,” Koretzky writes,
I invited him to visit the newsroom of the University Press. He spoke to the students passionately about journalism, and we spoke briefly about FAU.
We bonded over our low opinion of the inept administration, but when I invited him to sit on the panel that selects the editor-in-chief, he hesitated. “I’m not going to be here very long,” he told me.
I don’t recall all the details, but he regaled me with his plans to move to more prestigious surroundings within a few years, where he’d write influential books instructing the news media how to fight government attempts to inject propaganda into their growing online efforts.
This is truly bizarre. While I applied for a handful of other professorships over the years, why would I ever share this with someone I barely know, and who’s not even a professional peer? I was generally happy at FAU, got along well with my department chair and colleagues, and considered myself fortunate to be in such a nurturing place.
What is more, my spouse secured a faculty post with the FAU library just months after my 2002 appointment. The following year we bought our first home together within walking distance to campus. We were, in short, here for the long haul.
In contrast, Koretzky argues, “James Tracy was a typical academic with big dreams of prestigious research” who “became bitter.”
When he couldn’t break FAU’s orbit after a decade, there could be only two explanations:
“I’m not as talented as I’ve long thought I am.”
“FAU – and maybe the world – is plotting against my success.”
“What’s He Doing Now?”
I attained a contrasting knowledge of Koretzky through colleagues and students, who sometimes described his role at the UP as divisive and overall unproductive.
For example, whenever Koretzky’s name was brought up at Friday afternoon faculty meetings it was met with chuckles, eye rolls, and hands to foreheads. “What’s he doing now?” was a common refrain.
While I welcomed UP editors into my classes to recruit writers and encouraged students to develop a portfolio of bylined stories by writing for the paper, many described the atmosphere there as “cliquish”, and it was not until shortly before my own departure from FAU that I discovered exactly why students disliked working at the paper.
One FAU colleague from my department, former South Florida Sun-Sentinel environmental reporter Neil Santaniello, was assigned to serve alongside Koretzky as official faculty advisor to the UP in 2014. Santaniello’s reassignment came after being effectively demoted from the position he was originally wooed away from the Sun-Sentinel to fill in the early 2000s—heading up a program specifically devoted to train environmental journalists on FAU’s Jupiter campus. In addition to instruction Santaniello planned and coordinated a prominent symposium attended annually by the nation’s top environmental journalists.
The environmental journalism program was one of many ambitious departmental projects dismantled by Dean Heather Coleman, the same administrator who fired me in 2015. A few years prior, in 2012 Coltman, over the near unanimous outcry of communication faculty, forced out the department’s directors and replaced them with well-meaning yet incompetent lackeys. Such is the nature of cut-throat internal politics of a taxpayer-funded public university.
Earnest yet mild-mannered, even at time self-effacing, Santaniello was a good colleague, and I advised his successful case for promotion in 2014. One day I asked how things were going at the UP, particularly working alongside its volunteer press advisor. He remarked that after a year in his position he was fighting to create a more positive collective attitude among the student journalists.
According to Santaniello, Koretzky was a frequent headwind in this struggle because he tended to “pit one group of students against another,” thereby creating an uncomfortable if not hostile workplace–one that Koretzky appeared to sit back and take pleasure in.
In 2015 FAU hired Israeli-American journalist Ilene Prusher as second official UP faculty advisor. I never met her because FAU fired me shortly after her arrival. Prusher’s credentials include posts at several major news outlets throughout the world, interviews with top heads of state, and continuing contributions to the biggest names in corporate media. In 2018, for example, she provided on-site reportage from the Parkland Florida mass shooting event to major US and Israeli media.
“When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind”
Mr. Koretzky is still blogging about FAU’s “conspiratorial communications professor,” claiming that he knows me, even though we’ve not spoken in 15 years. In spring 2018 FAU Political Science Professor Marshall DeRosa invited me to lecture in one of his classes. Shortly after my arrival I recognized Koretzky standing behind a post toward the back of the lecture hall.
“Fired FAU professor James Tracy returned to campus today,” Koretzky writes, “as a guest speaker for another class. His topic: the CIA and the ’unfree press.’”
Actually the name of my lecture was borrowed from Carl Bernstein’s seminal report, “The CIA and the Media.” Over four decades later, the 800 pound intelligence gorilla in the room continues to be studiously ignored by journalists and media educators alike.
A few minutes ago, in front of nearly 100 students, he began his lecture like this…
“Are you Michael Koretzky?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Are you enrolled in this class?”
“No, I’m not.”
So I hope it’s going well. If you want to know why Tracy doesn’t want me around, it’s because I so enjoy quoting his crazy ass…
In fact, I was more concerned with being misquoted and misrepresented by this ardent “newshound.”
After Koretzky left, Prusher, also sitting in a back row of the classroom with notepad at the ready who might have been mistaken for a student, raised her hand to make her presence known. I politely asked her to leave as well.
Neither individual contacted DeRosa requesting to attend the lecture, which is a common and expected courtesy among academics in any college setting. While Prusher is somewhat new to university culture, Koretzky has been working in one for two decades, yet remains conspicuously unaware of such customs. An FAU student journalist covering the story for the UP, who readily raised her hand asking for permission to attend, was granted entry.
The quote oft attributed to famous economist John Maynard Keynes, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” might be brought to bear on the behavior of Koretzky and similar content producers operating under guises of “news” and “journalism.”
If Koretzky wanted to get to the real story on my growing disenchantment with FAU leading up to 2015 he might have filed public records requests for my emails or, better yet, contact me and other FAU staff to line up interviews. (After all, he knows me so well.) I could have provided ample evidence (e.g. here, here, here, and here) of how the John Kelly administration and ultimately the wealthy South Florida businessmen serving as FAU’s trustees were on the war path to stifle the free speech and academic freedom of all FAU professors, while encouraging administrative overreach that even threatened to gut the promotion and tenure process.
As for TracyvFAU, the case consists of close to 500 court briefs and involves the activity of over a dozen attorneys—all of whom know the case and present appeal from top to bottom.
Getting the real story would require an even-keeled reporter who must place truth, facts and objectivity above personal prejudice, occupational groupthink, and an inclination toward go-for-the-jugular sensationalism.
Koretzky simply can’t change his mind because he’s either too lazy to identify and utilize relevant information or too hostile toward the facts themselves. In the end such practices are dishonest, as they result in misleading if not deceiving readers–who in this instance are often fledgling journalists looking to Koretzky to set an example. The “journo-terrorist,” however, is satisfied to brandish our close to non-existent relationship and resort to armchair prattling on a court fight he’s scarcely lifted a finger to comprehend.
While claiming the mantle of renegade journalist who’s few steps ahead of his salaried counterparts, Koretzky parrots the Palm Beach Post and Sun-Sentinel’s headlines and soundbites of the “crazy conspiracy theory professor” who’s “fighting to get his job back.” At least the Post and Sentinel reporters have an excuse for promoting this phony narrative: a major advertising client in FAU combined with the owners and editors of these outlets vis-á-vis the palpable fear of losing their livelihoods.
FAU, though perhaps not its students, is indeed stuck with the press advisor and blogger it so well deserves–the man who came to camp out at the university’s student paper, and 20 years later refuses to move on.