When a blogospheric blow-up hits the mainstream: Kent State in the news

I picked up the buzz late yesterday when I checked the tags for “Kent State,” something I do now an again as part of my social media research. Google returned several pages of results, most of them focusing on a colleague in the History Department — a person I’ve never met.

ksuseal.jpgAs it turns out, I was late on the uptake. Kent State had already received over 100 phone calls, and the MSM were all over the story. For the morning-after read, check here and here, and you’ll see a classic lesson how a single online story — backed by not much evidence at this point — can explode in your face within hours when fanned by the blogosphere.

Is your office ready for this? You’d better be.

At Kent State, the stir over Dr. Julio Pino and his alleged ties to the blog Global War should have surprised no one. A convert to Islam and outspoken supporter of Palestine, he’s been posting some pretty inflammatory thoughts, on paper and online, for a few years now. Most controversial of his comments, at least on campus, was column in our student paper praising an 18-year-old Palestinian suicide bomber.

Speech and academic freedom aside, that’s not the kind of talk that wins friends here in the Heartland. It IS the kind of talk that creates serious PR problems for your employer.

From a PR standpoint, KSU has responded to the allegations, responses you can read at the links I supplied. KSU has distanced itself from the jihadist rhetoric and pointed out that nothing on the Global War site ties back to Dr. Pino. But since Pino has admitted to making contributions to the site, you can bet that bloggers and reporters around the globe are digging for more evidence.

So this story may have some legs. We’ll see. Whatever happens, I don’t see a lot of positive outcomes for the university or for Dr. Pino. But I’ll bet the university starts paying closer attention to what employees say in their online forums.

As an insider, I know that the tenets of academic freedom and the policies of tenure may limit, to some degree, the actions our administration can take against Pino. But the average Joe, whose taxes support this institution, isn’t going to understand. And even Edward Bernays himself wouldn’t be able to convince him otherwise.

You see, when emotion takes over a story, as it has here, you can toss logic out the window. Turn on your AM radio this morning if you want evidence of this — but I’ll warn you, it’s ugly.

In Cleveland, conservative yakker Bob Frantz is doing what talk shows do — stirring up a frenzy. Based on the statements of conservative websites, Frantz already has called for Pino’s arrest on charges of treason, and his deportation to Cuba. He’s even accused Kent State of supporting terrorism.

See what I mean? So much for due process.

I’m not taking sides in this fight. I don’t have enough information to condemn or defend Dr. Pino at this point. I do hope that my employer handles it responsibly. I believe they will, but the damage may already be done.

I’ll try to keep you posted, even though the dude on the talk show said he “smells a gag order” by the KSU administration. Hmm. Better publish this before my boss tells me I can’t.

I hesitate to add this, but there is a comical aside on this story that tells me that my university hasn’t quite come to grips with the social media. As reported in the Plain Dealer today:

Kent officials issued a cease and desist order to blogs and other sources that are “writing or disseminating information that associates Kent State with these opinions of this Web site.”

Yeah. Right!
Update:  Spent about an hour tonight checking sites that turn up in the search: Kent State + Julio Pino.  Some serious nutballs out there, I tell ya — and they have guns!  Glad I do, too.

What my search hasn’t turned up is proof that the Global War blog is — or was — Pino’s site.  The rants I’ve encountered (and they’re all ranting) just seem to assume the site is Pino’s, with most citing Mike Adams of the conservative blog townhall.com. Adams, say MSM reports, is the one who touched off this firestorm.

An interesting sidelight.  The link to Global War now reverts to a pro-military site called Defend America.   Film at 11.

11 Responses to When a blogospheric blow-up hits the mainstream: Kent State in the news

  1. Nicole Gwyn says:

    Wow. I don’t think this will turn out pretty.

  2. Robin says:

    Interesting stuff, this. The most successful PR practitioner in this whole story, it would seem, is Dr. Pino. He has a viewpoint, apparently, and has won a lot of discussion about it. There is a case study here for how to (or not to) manage a communications/reputation crisis, but there maybe is a better case study for how to achieve widespread awareness of a fringe point of view through online social media.

  3. Bill Sledzik says:

    That’s a point I hadn’t considered, Robin. A good one. While I doubt today’s flap was orchestrated by Pino, effect is the same, isn’t it? What will be interesting to watch is the consequences. I’ve not uncovered hard evidence that Pino is behind the blog in question, but there’s plenty of evidence about where he stands on the jihad. He’s on record with that. So Kent State faces a dilemma. Academic freedom and the 1st Amendment would suggest standing by your man. But community outrage, coupled with bottom-line considerations, suggest something quite different.

    Lots to be learned here, though I doubt my friends in the PR office are excited to be at the center of it! I also feel sorry for the switchboard operator today.

  4. Dave Wilson says:

    It’s apparent Pino is accustomed to being a lightning rod for controversy. If Pino were smart, he’d provide full disclosure, then publicly distance himself from any “jihadist” affiliation unequivocally (if possible). That still won’t appease the likes of Bob Frantz, but the rest of the world would probably accept it.

  5. Stacey (Shearer) Giammarco says:

    I understand that the MSM does (and possibly is) taking a snippet of information and blowing it out of proportion, but this issue is still delicate in the eyes of the ‘average American’. It pains me to see an institution (KSU) that renders such broad respect globally take an issue like this lightly. I hope that the administration continues to keep the communication with the public above board, but also understands the Kent State Community (which reaches much farther than the boundaries of campus) is watching closely…and hoping that they find the truth -whatever that may be.

    On a side note, I read about this this morning and my immediate thought was whether you, Bill, would be posting anything on your blog site. Well done! The Kent State PR family continues to make me proud to say ‘yes, I graduated from Kent State University!!’
    Hope everyone is well.

  6. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for your kinds words, Stacey. And as for your comment, it could not have done a better job underscoring my points. KSU has a large and varied community, and many of our stakeholders will see this issue from a perspective that doesn’t include the values of “tenure” or “academic freedom.” Those are inside-the-academy concepts that don’t have a lot of fans in the real world.

    But above all else, we need more information, and Dr. Pino deserves due process.

    I thought Dave Wilson had a great point, too. It’s time for Dr. Pino to speak up. As a member of the KSU community, he owes us that much. KSU, after all, has been standing up for him.

  7. If I had a nickel for how many times people have said on talk radio “we should send the National Guard back to Kent State” in the past week, I’m sure I’d be a rich man. Not, mind you, that I was even aware of this story before reading your blog (but I bet it is being tossed around).

  8. I feel I should clarify that I don’t feel that way about Kent State — an ex-prof of mine is teaching there, and I have friends who have gone there — I’m just betting a lot of selt-important rednecks are saying it and clapping themselves on the back is all.

  9. Priscilla says:

    There has been a lot of excitement in the Daily Kent Stater office over the Pino issue. The news team seemed to be late on the uptake, as you said Mr. Sledzik. The question circling the office after we spoke this afternoon was “Why weren’t we on this??” The newspaper should have been on top of the story from the beginning. Since the paper published on online brief we have received numerous remarks, many of them derrogatory and racist comments about Pino and Muslims. We’ve had to pull extremely hateful comments.

    The interesting thing for me is that I get to view this issue as a reporter, PR practitioner, and a student. This issue clearly sets Kent State in a bad light, but I think the university is taking the right steps to preserve its reputation. The funny thing is that I think the news teams on campus are too.

    Although journalists are supposed to live, breathe and think objectively, one reporter sent a message over the DKS listserv writing about how the media is “tarnishing,” Kent State’s name and wrote, “we aren’t a PR tool, I just wonder if we should do something about it.”

    Reporters for the DKS are students. I think having the students on the university’s side will say something to the MSM and the public.

    Considering the etiology of this ordeal, it has been a lesson in the power of the blog, Mr. Sledzik. ;- D

  10. There is no real freedom of speech, because more than likely if it comes out that he has made these comments, people will do whatever they can to remove Pino from the University. Sad huh? I guess we all have to conform to the same beliefs in order to survive in this country.

    OH WAIT!…they already tried that one with the Indians, the Africans, and anyone else who wasn’t a white Christian Man; forcing them away from their entire culture and everything that they believed in. And yes this does include you too ladies. Lets not forget about how you had to fight for your rights in this country that swore to protect you also. Trust me, you (WE) have come a long way from not being able to speak your mind, but this situation shows that your fight is not over.

    I once heard someone say, “you might as well plead the 5th, because you can’t plead the 1st.” hmm…intresting.

  11. […] Bill Sledzik at Kent State describes the heat being brought to bear on Kent State professor Julio Pino, who writes and blogs on topics and from points of view that are certain to bring controversy down on him — and his employer. […]

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