Fox News reporter Jesse Watters was recently thrown off campus while asking students questions primarily about liberal bias in the university. On camera, he asked Senior Director of Media Relations John Carberry why he was being asked to leave and Carberry in his best imitation of an imperial bureaucrat said he would send him a statement. Carberry proceeded to send a statement asserting that Cornell does not discriminate in hiring on the basis of politics, a statement that notably did nothing to explain why Cornell threw Watters off campus. When airing the segment Bill O’Reilly said to Watters, ““Don’t they understand that they look 18 times worse than if they’d just left you alone?”
Mr. Carberry violated the first rule of public relations: never make matters worse by making public relations the story and above all, don’t appear to be covering up through censorship.
Apparently, Vice President of University Relations Joel Malina thought he was improving the situation when he released a statement indicating that it was university policy to require media outlets to receive permission from the university before interviewing or photographing students. Let’s leave aside practical questions like whether bloggers are media outlets, what counts as an interview, and whether individual students who plan to report campus conversations with their fellow students or put campus student photographs (including their own) on their Facebook pages have to go to Malina’s designee to get permission.
According to Malina, the purpose of this policy is to protect the privacy of individual students. If you believe this, I have a bridge to sell you. The purpose of this policy is not to protect consenting students; the purpose of this policy is to try to control or stay on top of the story. It is a policy that bespeaks thundering ignorance of basic principles of free expression. Great universities endorse those principles. They understand that press licensing involves not just stupid public relations, but also that the values promoted by freedom of expression are never served by the censorial urges of a club-footed bureaucracy.