Kent State: PR crisis on the morning after

My post yesterday drew a lot of interest, and a record number of visitors. So I thought I’d update you before I head out for a busy day — one that mercifully takes me away from this damn MacBook.

Dr. Pino stepped forward to clear the air. Read about it here in the Beacon Journal and in the Daily Kent Stater. Pino stated unequivocally that he does not support jihad. Reports say he does admit that his photo and his writings have appeared on the jihadist blog Global War.

“I’m not the issue,” Pino said. “The issue is free speech.”

I’m finding no follow-up story in the Plain Dealer, which tells me the editors 40 miles to our north didn’t see enough to merit more coverage of this mess. If I missed something, please send the link and I’ll update.

Global War has disappeared. When you click the link, it appears momentarily, then links quickly to a pro-U.S military site called DefendAmerica. The site offers no explanation, nor can I. But it’s curious as hell, don’tcha think?

After all, it was Pino’s writings on the Global War that supposedly triggered this firestorm. But Mike Adams, writing on conservative website, alleged the blog belonged to Pino. Legions of bloggers who share Adams’ views echoed those allegations. Nowhere have I found evidence to support those claims. Pino insists he does not own the blog and no one has shown otherwise.

Back to free speech. Let’s put this in perspective. Kent State has a faculty member who makes the news for his controversial statements. Hmmm. Why is that news? In the academy, it’s part of life. It’s news in part because of the subject matter, and in part because the MSM are listening way too much to the bloggers and exercising way too little news judgment. That why the social media scare me a bit.

Pino’s writings criticized U.S. policy with both passion and emotion. That’s gonna raise eyebrows in the Midwest anytime, but especially in these times. I mean, there’s still a war on. But this strikes me as a classic case of an MSM feeding frenzy — something that’s becoming way, way too common.

I don’t see a clear and present danger here any more than I see black helicopters from my back porch. Let’s keep this in perspective, something many bloggers and most of the MSM seem to have lost.

I’m not a fan of tenure, as I think it zaps energy from both classroom and research. But without it, Pino might well be out on his ear today. Tenure protects free speech, and it assures due process. But most importantly, it protects us all from witch hunts like the one Adams launched yesterday.

The impact on Kent State? That’s anybody’s guess. I’ve been through enough crises as a PR practitioner to know that these things tend to pass. A good number of the right-wing blogs will press their own little jihad for a while, but I suspect most middle-of-the-road Ohioans will move on with their lives. But a handful of students will likely choose a different school next fall, and a few alumni may not send their checks this year.

As a final note, I’d encourage you to do a “Kent State + Pino” search on Google Blog Search or Technorati. What you see out there should scare the hell out of you. Extremism lives on both ends of the political spectrum. It’s the reason I treasure the label of “moderate.”


9 Responses to Kent State: PR crisis on the morning after

  1. That’s an interesting assertion you make regarding tenure—that it protects a faculty member’s constitutional rights. Funny, but I always assumed the Bill of Rights already had that covered 🙂

    Seriously, though, are you implying that Kent State (or any university, for that matter) would be quick to can the cause of the controversy had that person not earned tenure? Maybe I’m naive when it comes to my understanding of tenure, but you make it sound like an accountability force field. Perhaps you could shed some light on this?

  2. Kent State Uniersity issued a mass email today that addresses the issue; denying all connections to the website. They also stated that no one has been able to prove that Pino has made any anti-American comments. At this point in time, I don’t think that Kent State has enough information to dismiss Pino from the University. actually, from what i read, I KNOW that hey don’t have any evidence to fire him.

    They also stated that they have been recieving some “hate mail and threats”, which proves to me that those people are unaccreditable. They are acting without facts. Some of these people who feel like they are being proactive leaders are actually being reactive jerks who are only going off of accusations.

    Until they get more facts, those people need to put a hold on the press and stop jumping the gun.

    Situations like this allow me to see how elementary so many of our adult minds…..and these are the people we’re supposed to look up to…yeah right!!!

    Lets be resonable people and stop being so narrow minded

  3. Bill Sledzik says:

    Dino and LaDon,

    Maybe I was hasty to suggest that Kent State would dump Pino if it weren’t for his tenure (and union) protection. I don’t know that to be the case. But I suspect a lot of administrators were thinking their jobs would be a whole lot easier if this guy would just go away. Having been a manager myself, I’d have had the same thoughts.

    Now, about the protection of tenure. While the 1st Amendment protects free speech, that right isn’t absolute when it comes to your job. As I understand it, an employer, especially in an “at will” employment state like Ohio, can fire you for any reason. And that includes statements or actions seen as injurious to the employer. In academe, tenure provides a bit more protection.

    Tenure protects a faculty member from retributions for expressing his or her ideas. In that sense, it’s essential to the free flow of ideas in academe, and to the building of knowledge. It allows a faculty member to pursue research and writing that now and again pisses folks off.

    As I said in the post, I dislike it because I think a guaranteed lifetime ANYTHING is an invitation to push in the clutch and coast to retirement. You should also know that tenure isn’t absolute. It can be revoked, but I’ve just gone beyond my limited knowledge on the topic. Better stop.

  4. Colin Moriarty says:

    I just got home from working crew on Akron Newsnight at Kent, and according to Vincent Duffy (one of the anchors), someone hacked the site and put up the DefendAmerica link…

  5. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks, Colin. That sounds plausible. I found several other sites — I won’t link to them — that claim Dr. Pino was using the site, in conjunction with the FBI, to entrap would-be terrorists. That would put Kent State on the frontline of the war against terrorism, wouldn’t it? Like I said earlier, there are a lot of nutballs out there, and it only took 48 hours for them to produce a conspiracy theory.

    I can’t wait until this fades to black. Let’s get back to Anna Nicole.

  6. Tim Roberts says:

    A couple of observations. For classroom purposes, I’d say the university’s release stayed on message and achieved its core goal of distancing the university from Pino. I agree with your assertion that asking bloggers to not name KSU was wishful thinking. I was extraordinarily disappointed that the release did not contain a statement that the university does not condone hate speech of any kind. That was a glaring omission in my opinion.

    This is no longer a freedom of speech issue. He wrote the letter, it was published and he was not sanctioned in any way. The letter was resurrected and nothing will happen because Pino bashed Bush and the American military. That is commonplace on college campues, although his statements were of the crackpot variety. The threat that I inferred from his letter was murky enough that he was able to skate.

    I do disagree with your statement that he stepped forward. The way I read it, the Beacon reporter was enterprising and found out where he was teaching and caught him before class. And his no comments were hardly the rhetoric of a freedom of speech martyr. Has he been lawyered up? Or is he weary of the attention?

    Pino falls in the category of a “keyboard cowboy” on the blogosphere. He was quite the firebrand when writing his leter to the Stater a few years back, but he is now shrinking from the broader media spotlight. From a university pr standpoint, that is a good thing.

    The lesson learned here is when you write or say something as inflammatory as he did, you better be prepared for a reaction as strong or stronger. That is a human nature issue, not a freedom of speech issue. Pino is suffering the consequences of his own poor judgment. He is a victim of his own bravado. My sympathy goes out to his family who, I’m sure, are taking a lot of heat for this,

    Students – and their instructors – should view this as a cautionary tale. What we write – on blogs, websites, Facebook, etc. – can come back to bite us! Think before you write!

  7. […] more than willing to report the blog craziness and, in turn, to fan the flames. We learned that last week at Kent State, didn’t […]

  8. Bill Sledzik says:

    Well put. And as you’ll see in my next post, the beat goes on. Words do have consequence.

  9. markedmanner says:

    I have no problem with people being against the war. I have no problem with people disagreeing with President Bush. But Pino openly has supported a Suicide Bomber and has admitted that he took part in the blog that supported the enemies of America. Its one thing to speak against what Bush is doing its another to sympathize with terrorist wouldnt you agree? I ask you to please look at the things I lay out here:

    When does freedom speech become aiding the enemy? That is the question I have for you.

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