Home / Robert Farley / Just Watching the World Burn…

Just Watching the World Burn…


I haven’t been following the story, but the absurdity of this should be manifest:

Videos posted by the conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart appear to have ended the teaching career of an adjunct at the University of Missouri — even as university officials issued a statement backing the contention of the two instructors of the labor studies course that their comments in the class had been edited to present an “inaccurate and distorted” picture of what was said.

Breitbart posted the videos (here and here) on his Big Government blog and, based on the recordings, called the course “advanced thuggery.” In the video, the two instructors can be heard making numerous seemingly positive statements about the use of violence or threatened violence in labor-management relations. The course is taught by one instructor at the university’s Kansas City campus, Judy Ancel, and another at the St. Louis campus, Don Giljum. With a video link, the professors and students at the two campuses interact in class — and the recordings have been available to students through the learning management system used in the course. The videos posted by Breitbart are clearly from different class sessions, as the professors appear in different clothing.

In interviews Thursday, both Ancel and Giljum said that their statements in the videos were a mixture of different teaching techniques, including describing how labor leaders felt during certain periods of time, directly quoting specific individuals (whose views they did not necessarily share), and intentionally taking an extreme position to prompt class discussion.

They said that the full recordings would make this clear, and that they would like the complete class sessions released. The problem, they said, was that the recordings show identifiable students as well as the instructors (which is the case in the excerpts posted by Breitbart, too), so the university can’t just post the recordings without violating student privacy rights.

I suspect that anyone who’s ever taught any class associated in any way with the history of the Second World War has had, at some point, to work through the motivations of the German and Japanese governments and armed forces. Out of context, such descriptions could easily be distorted into affirmations of sympathy for Nazi or Imperial Japanese war aims. If universities are unwilling to back faculty (including adjunct faculty) in such contexts, then we effectively have mutual assured destruction; Breitbart and his ilk can destroy the careers of any faculty member they so desire, just as an enterprising student with a camera phone and Windows Movie Maker could make life difficult for Donald Douglas or Glenn Reynolds.  Because the privacy concerns for students are genuine, fighting allegations with the full recordings can be very hard.

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  • Be interesting to see the comment thread on this excellent post. This is a far more serious issue than parsing the death of Bin Laden. It is stand up and push back hard against Breitbart’s kind of crap.

    • BKP


  • rea

    So why, when the University was well aware of what Breitbart was pulling, did they fire one of the instructors?

    Cowardly enablers . . .

    • DrDick

      This is Missouri, where the legislature is increasingly hostile to higher education (or the Enlightenment for that matter). You normally do not get to be a top level public university administrator by standing up for principles if it pisses off the legislature.

      • Lindsay Beyerstein

        According to an article in the Kansas City Star (IIRC) from last week, the university officials who reviewed the full footage said publicly that Breitbart’s videos were transparently misleading. (This was not a slick frame up job. One instructor appears to change shirts in mid-sentence.)

        It’s weird that the adjunct lost his job despite what read like a total public vindication by the university.

  • What is most disturbing is that Breitbart is being legitimized by some of the major news outlets. When pitting someone of liberal thought against the conservative view, Breitbart is often enlisted as the latter.

    The man’s bizarre idea of legitimate “gotcha,” and the public’s apparent willingness to accept it on face value speaks volumes about the shallowness of the average American.

    • Jay C

      Disturbing as it may be, the real shocker isn’t so much that “the public” seems willing to credit the garbage Andrew Breitbart produces, but that administrators at a large University – one would presume, people with some sort of intelligence and/or standards, would, apparently, swallow insane nonsense like this without reflection – and use it to serious affect one of their staffs’ careers.

      • DrDick

        Unfortunately, these administrators are answerable to a bunch of anti-intellectual ideological extremists (the legislature) who would use this as a pretext to punish the university system. This in no way excuses the moral cowardice of the administration, but it does help explain it.

        • rea

          I suspect that another aspect of this is that adjuncts are regarded by universities as highly disposable garbage.

          • DrDick

            Yep. They are certainly not going to the wall for an adjunct.

          • hv

            I must disagree.

            They regard adjuncts as well-trained dogs or rats to be sent ahead to clear a path in the mine-field.

            Disposable, yes. Garbage, no,

            • DrDick

              I think they are more sacrificial offering to the Reichwing Gods of Destruction.

  • efgoldman

    I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV, but it seems to me that the bleephole has to be skating very, very close to some line which would cause him civil penalties, if not criminal.
    Does anyone know if the Sherrod lawsuit is moving forward (understanding that litigation of that sort can take several years.)

    • elm

      Also not a lawyer, but it would seem to me that an instructor at a University would not qualify as a public figure, so the legal thresholds for defamation, slander, and libel would be much lower. Here’s hoping Breitbart gets sued and sued a lot.

      • RepubAnon

        Yes, Breitbart’s business model seems to be deliberate, malicious defamation of character with knowing disregard of the falsity of the alleged claims. I’d sure as heck sue him…

      • rea

        It doesn’t matter whether the instructor is a pubic figure, because if there was ever a casein which the required malice could be proven, it was this one.

        • Breitbart’s line is that he is just posting videos that others have sent him, and is it his fault the videos may have been doctored? IANAL either, but I suppose that’s not really a valid libel defense. Or better, I *hope* it’s not a valid libel defense.

    • John F

      The common law cause of action that Breibart appears closest to triggering is called “false light”

      • rea

        Not to mention defamation.

    • Paul_D

      Sherrod is indeed suing, but Breitfart Inc. is trying to have the case tossed.

      • Holden Pattern

        Which, in and of itself, is not indicative of their assholery either way — anyone would do that.

  • Murc

    I suspect that anyone who’s ever taught any class associated in any way with the history of the Second World War has had, at some point, to work through the motivations of the German and Japanese governments and armed forces.

    I took a History of World War II class in freshman year as an undergrad. There was only one text assigned (and it was by Robert Leckie, hardly the most even-handed of historians) and on the first day the teacher told us he hoped the course would teach us that there was evil in the world and it could be defeated.

    I suppose that counts as working through the motivations of the German and Japanese governments. :)

    • John

      Robert Leckie? Seriously? That sounds like the worst class ever.

  • Rob

    What does Breitbart have to do to be fully discredited? Of course it doesn’t help that many Board of Regents members tend to be wingnuts themselves these days and so to avoid protracted fights other Board members will willingly sacrifice a few adjuncts.

    • TT

      Short of being arrested for murder or child molestation, Breitbart is an untouchable in the conservative movement, for a simple reason: he hates liberals and will go to any lengths to battle them. The lies he spins are a feature not a bug; that he gets them into the bloodstream and keeps them there, boiling, is why his fellow conservatives admire him so. Combine this with a healthy dose of conservative victimhood mongering, old-fashioned race-baiting (remember, he was the victim of Shirley Sherrod), and barely concealed authoritarianism, and you have the conservative mind of 2011 perfectly encapsulated

      “Limited government”, anti-communism, cutting taxes, and all the rest of it will ebb and flow with the times. But hatred of liberals remains the defining ethos of the conservative movement.

      • Rob

        Sure he’s never going to get kicked out of Conservatism as long as he’s useful (when he isn’t any longer he’ll be Becked). But why does anyone who isn’t a wingnut or part of the wingnut con even paying attention to him at this point?

        • Scott Lemieux

          But why does anyone who isn’t a wingnut or part of the wingnut con even paying attention to him at this point?

          Because he can get people fired?

          • Warren Terra

            You’re not wrong, but that’s just a bit circular.

            • Holden Pattern

              Because he’s a useful instrument who provides movement conservatives with excuses to get people they don’t like fired, and to smear and attack institutions they don’t like. Does that remove sufficient circularity?

              Also, I’m completely confused by the entire question. The puke funnel is still in action, corporate media reports uncritically on whatever controversies the puke funnel provides, and Breitbart feeds the funnel. QED.

              Reputation, shame, truth, whatever. That shit just doesn’t matter anymore.

          • John

            Begging the question, are we?

            • Malaclypse

              I’m sorry, but internet traditions demand that anybody who uses the phrase “begging the question” correctly must immediately buy the whole blog a round of drinks.

              • I’m not aware of that one, and I am aware of all internet traditions.

              • Malaclypse

                I’m not aware of that one,

                Just trust me.

              • Hogan

                Malaclypse is right. Where’s my drink?

              • *sigh* Once more, the usual lament about the inability of text to show tone should be inserted here.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          Why does anyone outside wingnuttery pay any attention to any of them? It glues eyeballs to the screen and eyeballs sell ads!

    • “What does Breitbart have to do to be fully discredited?”

      Come out as a democrat.

      • chris

        You know… someone who learned enough from Breitbart’s methods might be able to arrange for that. Or at least a video that looks like that.

        Instant karma’s gonna get you.

    • j_h_r

      dead girl/live boy

  • Holden Pattern

    …just as an enterprising student with a camera phone and Windows Movie Maker could make life difficult for Donald Douglas or Glenn Reynolds.

    No, no they couldn’t. The valence of American political culture doesn’t work that way.

    • rea

      Sen. Ensign. Just sayin’ . . .

      • Holden Pattern

        Order of magnitude different (i.e., actual bribery apparently committed, actual adultery definitely committed), Ensign wasn’t fired, and the Republican Party was not tarred with Ensign’s behavior. Compare with the Breitbarting model where patently false accusations are ginned up by heavily edited video, and the accused is promptly fired and their organization discredited by heavy-rotation media coverage.

        The question about Ensign is whether he could have gotten re-elected in the current political climate in Nevada. If Ensign thought he could have been re-elected (see, Vitter, David), I guarantee he would not have resigned.

        • mark f

          Plus I think I read Ensign has reason to worry there’s an actual indictment imminent.

        • rea

          The point of my rather cryptic remark is that Ensign was treated far more leniently than any similarly situated Democrat would be.

          • Holden Pattern

            Ah. Well then, we are in violent agreement.

      • DocAmazing

        Difference: Ensign actually did pull the shit he’s accused of.

  • Wouldn’t there be some way of getting the students’ approval to release the videos? I know I would sign a waiver if any of my professors were being railroaded this way, regardless of political views.

    Perhaps it sets a bad precedent, though.

  • Yeah, fail, Farley. You’re REALLY behind on this story. Nothing was taken out of context, because the adjunct, Don Giljum, placed his comments advocating violence IN CONTEXT. During discussion with the class he stated HIS PERSONAL opinions, indicated that:

    “I can’t really honestly say that I’ve never wished, or have never been in a position where I haven’t wished real harm on somebody, or inflicted any pain and suffering on some people that, you know, didn’t ask for it,” Giljum said, “It certainly has it’s place.”

    That is stand alone. And comments like that don’t look too good when alumni start writing angry letters to the administration and board of trustees, or what have you.

    Frankly, I’d bet some of UoK’s big benefactors might not love screenings of “Che” to commemorate the Bay of Pigs. But hey, keep it up bro! Maybe you’ll get Breitbarted!! (And I’m not worried myself, since I don’t preach the revolution or advocate violence in class … but thanks for the mention!)

    • Some Guy

      Unless he got up, said that, and sat down; there is, by definition, context being left out. That is how context works.

    • asdfsdf

      So are you saying that you never wished harm on Osama bin Laden or that you don’t think he was a person? Are you seriously arguing that inflicting pain and suffering don’t have their places, or have you suddenly morphed into a hyper-pacifist? I don’t see what part of his statement was disagreeable, really. He didn’t say “Let’s burn the corporate oppressor at the stake,” he said “Sometimes I get angry, and sometimes it is justifiable.”

      • Warren Terra

        Yup. Donald Douglas: objectively pro-Hitler, or at least he’d never wish him harm. That is apparently his position, that wishing any people harm ever makes you a bad person.

        I liked him better when he was commenting as “The Donalde” and was completely incoherent, instead of being equally stupid and wrong but relatively straightforward.

        As to screening Che in class, if they did that, they shouldn’t have, on the grounds that the film was boring, and I say that really having wanted to like the film. The film is not terribly information dense per minute watched, and there are better uses of classroom time. But it’s hardly some sort of thought crime; for one thing, nobody’s going to watch that film and realize their life’s mission is to advance the revolution of the proletariat.

        PS on the other hand, if they played or even just linked to the Mark Steel Lecture on Che Guevara, that would be awesome.

        • BigHank53

          Silly Mr. Terra. Everybody knows that it’s not the what that’s being done, but who is doing it.

          Thus: pointing out that America is responsible for the acts of murders and torture it commits borders on treason, while beating a detainee to death is merely the loving hand of correction, adminstered by God via milspec proxy.

    • j_h_r

      was this discussion before or after the Magic Shirt Change(TM)?
      Also, considering that, for my money, any labor studies class worth taking would necessarily need to include, for example, the Haymarket Square riots, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, the role of the Pinkertons, Joe Hill, etc. etc., is it realistic to think that an appropriately thorough discussion WOULDN’T involve talking about the role of violence? And, considering that it is beyond dispute that this point that the videos in question have been unmercifully chopped and re-mixed in a deliberate attempt to demonize the lecturers in question, don’t you think that your assertion that the lecturer’s statement doesn’t need any context is, to put it exceedingly politely, uncharitable?

    • Malaclypse

      The random CAPS LOCK really ties your post together, but it needs more Sasquatch if you want to recapture your Machiavellian elan.

      • mds

        it needs more Sasquatch if you want to recapture your Machiavellian elan.

        I’ve just found new material for my e-mail signature file.

    • elm

      Among the Donalde’s many odd fixations, the one I understand the least his concern at the Patterson School showing “Che.” What’s the logic (even in Donalde world) for this outrage? Watching a movie about communist revolutionaries shows support for those revolutionaries? If I watch “Downfall” does that mean I support the Nazis? If I watch the King’s Speech, am I a royalist? Or does Donalde think that Che Guevara is an irrelevant topic for a class on Counter-Insurgency to discuss or think about or be informed about?

      Honestly not seeing the logic, even when I try to put on my Americaneocon glasses.

      • Hogan

        Maybe he thinks revolutionary communism is like teh gay: so powerfully seductive that when young people are exposed to it, they can’t help but be drawn in, so to speak. “Ohmaga this is the BEST! POLITICS! EVER! I am NEVER going back to bourgeois democracy!”

        • DrDick

          It its absolutely true! I was a hardcore neocon until I watched that movie and no I am a revolutionary socialist.

          • rea

            My dad got an MBA at Wharton back in the 50’s studying labor relations under the famous George W. Taylor. The Daily Worker was mandatory reading for the class. The goal, of course, was not to produce a bunch of communist MBAs, but to produce people capable of understanding and out-arguing the other side. Knowledge is a weapon; ignorance is a weakness.

            • redrob

              The Donalde appears to embrace the Catholic concept of “invincible ignorance” as a positive defense.

            • DrDick

              Yes, but that was back in the Dark Ages when we actually had rational conservatives.

    • Xenocrates

      Are’nt there some flies whose wings need pulling, Donalde? Please stop defending the loathesome Breitbart; he has been proven to be a liar and fabricator too many times. Hmm, threatening Dr. Farley in a veiled fashion, too. You are a contemptible human being, that is all. Now go away, and continue your mental masturbatory exercises elsewhere, please.

    • Nothin’ like a little bit of that famous rightwing workplace intimidation, eh Donalde?

      Hit ’em where they live (for thought crimes, no less) as long as they don’t buy your brand of political partisanship.

    • hv

      The most hilarious part is that this dumbass thinks he is immune.

      The only reason he is immune is that no liberal can grit their teeth long enough to sit through his class (recording audio) until he mentions his blog as a “recommended study aid”; and then follow that up with the 5 minutes required to sift for content that is obviously over the line.

      I live in Socal. I have seriously considered doing it. Just seems soooooo painful.

      • Malaclypse

        Dude, please make up a Sasquatch Isreal t-shirt over at cafe press, then audit his class. 50 bucks to the charity of your choice. 75 if your choice is Doctors Without Borders or the American Friends Service Committee.

        If you are wearing that t-shirt, and recording, I think I can pretty much guarantee Donalde will do something inappropriate.

        • Hogan

          I’ll match that.

          • DocAmazing

            We could raise quite a bit with that.

        • hv

          Interesting offer. Some practical considerations:

          1) auditing policy at LBCC says:

          Students may enroll as an auditor by permission of the instructor only. The participation in an audited class is subject to the discretion of the instructor.

          2) Admission to all spring classes is by instructor consent.

          3) DD doesn’t seem to be teaching any classes this summer.

          4) I can’t find a Fall 2011 schedule of classes.

          On the plus side, he teaches Poli Sci 1 and Poli Sci 4, both of which seem to have no pre-reqs.

  • Stag Party Palin

    Won’t somebody please write a Dancing Badger script for WordPress? Pleeeeze?

  • BKP

    What if these weren’t taken out of context. What would by the reaction?

    • What if the moon were made of red cheese? Would colorless green ideas still sleep furiously? Would the Frumious Bandersnatch still roam the land?

      • Uncle Kvetch

        What if Eleanor Roosevelt could fly? I think that really gets to the heart of it.

    • Gen. Peckem

      If a university professor had admitted that he had, at some point in his life, wished harm on someone? Well: so what? That probably puts him in the same group as most of humanity. We’re not saints; even saints can’t be saints all the time. Who can honestly say that they’ve never wished harm on anyone?

      • hv

        Especially if the professor then goes on to discuss the tactical dis-utility of violence for social movements.

        Would kinda provide a nice little lesson from the juxtaposition of personal desires and what is possible in larger societies.

        Sounds mighty educational, to me.

    • Anonymous

      What if it turned out that Don Giljum’s lecture notes were secretly written by that nefarious mastermind Bill Ayers, working under a grant by George Soros himself? What then? I demand you libtards answer my pointless speculations!

      • Malaclypse

        Above was me. Soros was clearly trying to silence me.

        • j_h_r

          Hail Eris. All hail Discorida.

          • j_h_r

            ^ Discordia

            f***ing fnords…

    • papa zita

      When you see the name “Breitbart”, there are no “what ifs” as regards manipulation.

    • Hogan

      It would be interesting to see the reaction if some college instructor somewhere quoted Jefferson’s theory of political change as outlined in the Declaration of Independence, or his notions of the care and feeding of the tree of liberty, without immediately expressing disapproval. But I’m sure that’s never happened in the history of the Republic.

      • Malaclypse

        See, context would matter then. If you quoted that Jefferson passage during the period Jan 2001-Jan 2009, that would be treason and sedition. However, the quote became acceptable again on Jan 20, 2009. It is now the height of patriotism to quote it, and by even asking the question, you besmirch our greatest Founding father.

        • elm

          This is true. Similarly, if the professors in question were Business School professors who were talking about using violence to break strikes, then context would matter and how dare anyone question their authority or their academic freedom.

        • dave3544

          I thought, post-HBO miniseries, that John Adams was our Greatest Founding Father.

          • rea

            “Thomas Jefferson still lives”–John Adams on his deathbed.

        • Hogan

          Truly Jefferson’s principles transcend time, space and culture (offer void while the GOP is in power).

    • Malaclypse
  • David W.

    Is it legal to record lectures without prior consent being given?

  • Furious Jorge

    just as an enterprising student with a camera phone and Windows Movie Maker could make life difficult for Donald Douglas or Glenn Reynolds.

    But that would be totally different, because shut up, that’s why.

    • NonyNony

      It would be totally different for Reynolds because he has tenure – something even better than a union in most cases because he doesn’t even have to pay union dues to anyone to keep his cushy ass safe.

      I don’t know about Donald – does his Community College grant tenure? If so HE wouldn’t have anything to worry about either.

      Those of us who teach as “lecturers” or “adjuncts” or whatever your university calls them know that we can be fired at any time for no reason whatsoever. I’m not surprised at all that the university would say “well they did nothing wrong but we’re not inviting them back to teach” because as a lecturer I was told from the beginning that I have zero job security, the university can choose not to renew my contract at any time they wish, and if I embarrass my employer in any way I’ll be asked not to come back.

      Incidentally, I can also be asked not to come back if my student reviews are poor. How’s THAT as a policy for giving your instructors incentive not to inflate grades?

      • Malaclypse

        I don’t know about Donald – does his Community College grant tenure?

        Amazingly, he has tenure.

        • hv

          Yeah, you would probably have to sue the CC for sexual harassment for the content of his blog recommended study aids.

          But once you got the administrators reading that thing, I predict a quiet settlement. No one wants those quotes on the front page.

          • Malaclypse

            But once you got the administrators reading that thing, I predict a quiet settlement.

            I’m pretty sure they know about his blog.

      • Furious Jorge

        I’m an adjunct myself. I know allllllllllll about how that shit works.

      • redrob

        In fairness, tenure is not absolute job security. At community colleges in the state where I teach, tenure just means the administration has to have a reason to get rid of you. Of course, adjuncts lack even that basic protection.

        • Probably the best way to think about tenure is that it is not a lifetime employment guarantee, but just a requirement for due process rather than employment-at-will. Now of course since at most universities “due process” means a bunch of administrators sit around and ask the lawyers what they can get away with, it really doesn’t mean all that much if The Right People get mad at you. But still.

  • Dave

    If universities are unwilling to back faculty (including adjunct faculty) in such contexts


    The whole point of adjunct faculty, of course, is that universities don’t have to back them. If universities don’t ruin themselves first, Breitbart & state legislatures et al. surely will.

    • Dave

      Adding, if I were an adjunct who got fired as a result of Breitbart’s fabrications, I would be sorely tempted to find the department chair and punch him or her in the fucking face.

    • Malaclypse

      Back when I misspent my youth as an adjunct, one of the courses I taught was “Social Class in America.” I cannot imagine trying to teach that course today.

      • DrDick

        Actually not uncommon in Soc departments. Not sure I would want to try to teach it, however.

        • MAJeff

          It’s part of my regular rotation.

  • owlbear1

    Undy Britefart is the stinking turd that proves the owners of America’s Media are conservatives and use their properties to push an agenda.

    If it were truly a “free market of ideas” he would already be selling vaccum cleaners.

    • Hogan

      Like my videos, they both suck AND blow!

      • owlbear1

        Given his target demographic and their special needs, that tagline would sell a lot of vacuum cleaners wouldn’t it?

  • Malaclypse

    I, for one, am simply stunned to see that Donalde was, once again, wrong, wrong, wrong. Whocouldanode?

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