Known For Partisan Attacks,
“Deeply wired into the intelligence community”
By James F. Tracy
Yet another harbinger of corporate news media’s continued demise is evident when a familiar mainstream journalist with admitted ties to US intelligence agencies plays covert roles in the issues and events he claims to report objectively on. The case of Kurt Eichenwald suggests how the CIA’s famous Operation Mockingbird is alive and well in the twenty-first century.
On December 16, 2015 FAU administrators terminated this author on pretextual grounds. Less than 24 hours beforehand the same school officials received an inflammatory email from Newsweek‘s Kurt Eichenwald, among the internet’s most avid gun control advocates and anti-Trump crusaders who boasts of being “deeply wired into the intelligence community.”
In the query, one of thousands of emails produced by FAU during discovery, the fiercely partisan Eichenberg more than subtly pressures the FAU administration on Tracy’s public speech concerning the Sandy Hook massacre event, further suggesting that Tracy is mentally ill, guilty of criminal harassment, and may pose a legal liability to the university.
Eichenwald’s email was received by the university’s chief public affairs officer and immediately forwarded to FAU President John Kelly, General Counsel David Kian, and Provost Gary Perry. Perry forwarded the email to Associate General Counsel Lawrence Glick and Vice Provost Diane Alperin. Less than 24 hours thereafter Alperin informed this author he would be fired.
In 2016, former Florida Atlantic University (“FAU”) Professor James Tracy filed a civil rights lawsuit against FAU following the termination of his tenured employment. If one relies on mainstream press reports of his firing they may conclude the action was justified because of Tracy’s alleged “harassment” of Sandy Hook parents, and/or his failure to comply with the school’s “outside activities” policy.
Yet at its heart, Tracy’s case has grave implications for the First Amendment rights of virtually every US academic and government employee. Through their own repeated admissions FAU administrators justified Tracy’s termination by arguing that Tracy failed to “disclose” his constitutionally protected political speech for university approval under a vague and confusing school policy.
If this precedent stands unchallenged it will allow virtually any government agency to police employees’ extracurricular speech or political activities, and accordingly discipline workers whose views are deemed objectionable.
Notwithstanding the truth about Sandy Hook, or other government conspiracies, what if I told you that Professor Tracy didn’t do anything wrong?
What if I told you that government officials at FAU broke their own rules, and the First Amendment when they disciplined Professor Tracy?
For those who don’t care about freedom of speech, you need read no further.
For those who understand and appreciate the fact that FAU, a major American public university, isn’t the NFL, and that its government officials aren’t allowed to conspire to beat the First Amendment and fire a government employee because of what they say as a private citizen about a matter of public concern, please keep reading.
Professor James Tracy, who has a Ph.D. in mass communications, was an award-winning, tenured communications professor at a government-run university. He was a good teacher who received outstanding and excellent annual evaluations from his supervisors while teaching at FAU for over a decade.
Editor’s Note: University professors in the United States today seldom engage in public speech that may even remotely threaten their employment. This is partly due to the fact that close to three-quarters of teaching faculty are non-tenured contract workers, and thus readily recognize their lack of tenure protections. Yet the many who have earned tenure regard it as more of a guaranteed sinecure than a guard against potential administrative retaliation for personal beliefs and/or public statements.
In fact, the institution of tenure in American higher education is largely rooted in the controversy surrounding Stanford University’s dismissal of Professor Edward A. Ross in 1900 for his public speech. Ross was a highly-regarded economist, sociologist, and even an early mass media critic. Jane Stanford, widow of railroad magnate and university founder Leland Stanford, was disturbed by Professor Ross’ political views, evident in the popular faculty member’s enthusiastic public support of the Populist Party’s “free silver” platform of the 1890s, and his subsequent condemnation of “Chinese cheap labor.” Following these remarks Ms. Stanford successfully pressured university president David Starr Jordan to terminate Ross’ employment.
The retaliatory firing of Ross became known as the “Ross case” and is historically recognized as a principal motivating factor in Professors John Dewey and Arthur O. Lovejoy’s founding of the American Association of University Professors that advocated for tenure across the US higher ed landscape.
As the following article from Stanford’s alumni publication (somewhat tepidly) chronicles,
At the time of her death in 1905, Mrs. Stanford was still associated with the Ross Affair. An obituary in the New York Times called it “the only serious cloud that ever lowered over Stanford University.”
In 1900, Jane Stanford forced out a respected faculty member. Was he a martyr to academic freedom or a racist gadfly who deserved what he got?
ON A TUESDAY AFTERNOON in November 1900, Edward Alsworth Ross gathered several student reporters in his campus office. Ross, 33 years old and a Stanford economics professor of seven years, had joined the university just two years after its opening. He was a captivating sight, 6-foot-5 and nattily dressed in a suit that favored his athletic physique.
Ross was popular with students and esteemed in his field. David Starr Jordan, the university’s first president, had recruited him not once but twice. Plucked from Jordan’s former home at Cornell, Ross was emerging as a scholarly star. Now, his time at Stanford was coming to an abrupt end.
Ross held a lengthy written statement he had prepared for the San Francisco newspapers. He handed it to the students.
“Well, boys,” he said, “I’m fired.”
ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN YEARS LATER, the reasons for Ross’s departure remain in dispute. The matter was precipitated by a series of public pronouncements Ross had made on political matters between 1896 and 1900, a practice that put him at odds with university co-founder Jane Stanford. Was he forced out because of his outspoken opinions or because he broke rules prohibiting partisan advocacy? What is not in dispute is that Mrs. Stanford insisted that Ross be sacked despite the vigorous objections of Jordan, who finally relented.
Ross’s dismissal drove a wedge between Stanford faculty and the administration and resulted in a spate of resignations by other professors. More broadly, it galvanized efforts to codify protection of academic freedom and indirectly led to the establishment of tenure. As it turned out, that hastily arranged press conference in Ross’s office was a seminal moment in the history of higher education.
LONG BEFORE HIS NAME became synonymous with academic freedom controversies, Edward Ross was an enigmatic figure. Born to a farmer and a schoolteacher in Illinois, and orphaned at age 10, he was taken in by neighbors on a nearby Iowa farm. His new family viewed him as a prodigy, praising him so extravagantly that some boys in the area thought him pampered.
On December 11, 2017, in a serious miscarriage of justice, a jury in West Palm Beach, Florida, ruled unanimously in favor of Florida Atlantic University and against former Media Studies Professor James Tracy, who was suing for reinstatement after his firing in 2016. The jury found that Tracy’s “controversial” articles on Memory Hole Blog were not a “motivating factor” in his firing, the only question they were required to consider. Of course, Tracy’s posts at “his conspiracy theory blog” were indeed the reason he was fired, but the jury was convinced otherwise by FAU’s legal team with assistance from the judge. The case centered around Tracy’s writings on the anomalies found in the reporting on the Sandy Hook “massacre” of December 14, 2012. His skepticism about the event was not to the liking of the university.
James Tracy with his attorney Louis Leo IV arriving at federal court. Image: Palm Beach Post.
FAU maintained that Tracy was not fired from his tenured position because of his blog posts, but because he did not follow the “rules” set out by “his bosses” at the government-run institution. FAU attorney G. Joseph Curley insisted that Tracy was not denied his First Amendment rights, but that he simply did not follow university procedure. “Professor Tracy doesn’t follow the rules,” Curley told the jury. “They’re rules that everyone else follows. He doesn’t play by the rules.” FAU cast the case as one of a “belligerent,” rebellious,” and “nonconformist” employee being let go for “insubordination,” instead of that of a tenured professor exercising his right to free speech.
FAU attorney G. Joseph Curley: “I could not be happier for FAU.” Image: Palm Beach Post.
FAU’s current “rules” require that faculty submit forms listing “outside activities” to be vetted for administrative approval, whether the activities are compensated or not. Tracy and other professors at FAU had argued that the policy is vague and confusing, constituting a form of prior restraint forbidden by the First Amendment, and leading to a climate of “fear and uncertainty” among the faculty. Aside from the fact that “outside activities” can reach into all aspects of a professor’s life and therefore be difficult if not impossible to list, such activities must not be subject to bureaucratic approval. And certainly, no tenured professor can be fired for not filling out a form, even at Florida Atlantic University.
West Palm Beach, Florida – A federal district court has granted former Florida Atlantic University Professor James Tracy permission to amend his civil rights lawsuit.
Professor Tracy’s Amended Complaint removes twelve (12) individual defendants named in the original Complaint, all trustees or former trustees of the Defendant University’s Board of Trustees, who were originally believed to have voted to terminate Tracy’s federally protected tenured employment. The Florida Civil Rights Coalition has since learned based on information provided by counsel for Florida Atlantic University, that no such vote ever occurred.