The School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill announced Tuesday that Tucker Carlson of Fox News would be a guest speaker at the school in April, and you might have thought the school had invited the spawn of Alex Jones and Peter Thiel. The outrage on Twitter was quick and piercing.
But seriously… why would you devalue your students’ degrees like this… @TuckerCarlson is not a journalist, he’s bad entertainment
— Nick Cain (@nickelicain) February 14, 2018
If I were taking journalism courses there I would demand a refund
— Tim Kelly (@NUDodgers) February 14, 2018
The school of journalism apparently can't tell the difference between a "contrarian" and a liar. Doesn't bode well for the quality of training.
— Jonathan Corbin (@JonathanCorbin2) February 14, 2018
These were some of the calmer ones. More here.
Meanwhile, the same day, Frank Bruni, a liberal op-ed writer for the New York Times and UNC alum, visited with Chancellor Carol Folt and UNC president Margaret Spellings. And no one seemed much concerned.
— Carol Folt (@ChancellorFolt) February 14, 2018
Apples and oranges, to be sure. No, maybe closer to each other than that. More like oranges and grapefruits. Both opinion purveyors for large media organizations. Way differing methods and mediums. Both journalists. (Journalist is broadly defined.)
OK, I get the outrage over Carlson. I’m a liberal. My blood pressure goes up with I watch Fox News. Carlson wouldn’t have been my choice to speak to the students, but the university didn’t ask my opinion. I’d have preferred someone who affirmed my journalism values more closely. Or, say, Jon Stewart. As a television talk show host, Carlson says what I consider offensive, ugly and wrong-headed things. Often. (When the Daily Stormer praises you, you’ve got to be doing something wrong.)
And that’s why his visit and speech are valuable. UNC-Chapel Hill is an educational institution. Students are there to learn. Among other things, the journalism school teaches critical thinking and skepticism. If your mama says she loves you check it out. Carlson’s visit provides the perfect opportunity to teach students about the principles of journalism, about truth-telling, fact-checking and bias. About journalistic independence and speaking truth to power.
Journalists are inquisitive people. Part of the job is to critically explore ideas — both those they agree with and those they oppose. They need to know what to do when they hear ideas that don’t hold water, that are filled with skewed data and venom. They certainly are going to hear them when they’re out in the real world. Despite what Fox News commentators would like you to believe, students in the Journalism School aren’t snowflakes. They can handle ideas across the spectrum, and they need to know how to question them all.
For what it’s worth, Tucker Carlson isn’t the only speaker addressing students at the School of Media and Journalism.
Next week, Ames Alexander of the Charlotte Observer and Joe Neff of the Marshall Project – both top investigative journalists – are speaking about the role journalists play in monitoring and reporting abuses in the criminal justice system.
The week after that, the J-school is hosting a panel discussion later this month called Holding Power Accountable. It features, among others, David Folkenflik of NPR and Emily Steel of the New York Times. Not a lightweight among them.
School is a place where you learn from people with different experiences and different ideas. It’s intellectually healthy.