Nestled away in the heart of one of the most conservative Midwestern states is a publicly funded university radically at odds with its surroundings.
Universities are in theory, marketplaces for ideas and ideologies; centers for free expression as well as vigorous and informed debate; refuges for free and independent thought. But if the taxpayers who help fund this institution heard what certain professors in its school of journalism are teaching students, they might ask for their money back. To some extent, this is no surprise. Most universities and their journalism schools are notoriously left leaning in nature. However, the sheer ferocity of the indoctrination is astonishing. I know first hand. I spent much of the past year at this institution.
It was not a surprise that as a conservative, I was ideologically alone in journalism school. However, it did not seem like a gigantic leap to think that no matter their leanings, professors would keep their politics out of the curriculum and fellow students would be open to and accepting of dissenting voices.
On the first day of school my email inbox received a department wide email from a fellow student encouraging all to watch the left-wing news show “Democracy Now.” According to the student, as aspiring journalists, we could do no better than to emulate the show’s host Amy Goodman.
Another email, this one from a professor, arrived simultaneously announcing the availability of free copies of Mother Jones in the graduate student lounge. After that, we hit the ground running.
In my “Press and Constitution” class, students and the professor discussed the Patriot Act, wire tapping, and prior restraint. All agreed that the Constitution and the First Amendment were in the gravest danger they had ever been in since the founding of the country. A follow up lecture revealed that not a single student in the class was familiar with the Alien and Sedition Acts.
In a lecture on hate speech, President George W. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union and its “axis of evil” were held up as primary examples. So, somehow, was any ban on gay marriage. Following this discussion, one female student, agitated by the mere mention of Bush, bleated “I wish it was against the law to be stupid.” Be careful what you wish for; you might end up in jail with all those stupid right-wingers.
In media theory, we learned that all media is driven by the nefarious schemes of corporations, or the democracy subverting intentions of the White House, and that no conservative would or should be interested in a career in journalism; the truth-finding nature of the work was just too contrary to their nature. But all of this is fairly characteristic in our colleges and universities.
For me, the most dismaying news came when a professor flatly informed my colleagues and me that there was no such thing as objectivity in journalism. “Get over it,” he said with some relish. Even more disturbing was how eagerly many of my classmates embraced this notion.
And this was the crux of the whole enterprise.
Most professors and almost all of the embryonic reporters they are educating see journalism as a means to an end. At school, and in the pages of publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, they are fed the idea that journalism is a tool to reshape the world as they, the journalists, the few enlightened among us, see it. Reporting is not about looking at a set of circumstances objectively, but rather interpreting them in a fashion that serves the ideological goals of the reporter and his organization.
Nowhere was this more painfully evident than in the photojournalism component of this program.Taught by a transparently bitter and ragingly insecure former staff photographer for National Geographic, photojournalism class was a brutal reinforcement of the notion of journalists as righteous social crusaders with a license to twist facts to meet their noble aims.Classes consisted of viewing the most graphic and gruesome footage from Iraq and Afghanistan, (usually U.S. soldiers killing insurgents), with little or no context given, followed by an angry lecture on how the blood of those innocent Iraqi and Afghani (terrorists) was on our hands.This was especially unfortunate because the fiance of another student in this class was a pilot in the Air Force and awaiting deployment to Afghanistan – a fact that the professor was all too aware of.
This professor’s strange fusion of photography and politics did not just encompass the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. His commentary included scathing asides on various politicians (John McCain was labeled a “liar”, a prominent Republican congressman was called an “idiot”, a wealthy benefactor of the university was deemed a “right wing nut.”) Lectures were littered with bromides on the dangers of global warming, sympathetic commentaries on Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame and outraged asides about neoconservatives – and this was a photography class!The final insult was his reflexive labeling of any students that dared to disagree with his opinions as “insert name of state here rednecks.” It is always classy to denigrate the very people who pay your salary.
By the end of the semester, I had reluctantly learned that photojournalism and photography are only worthwhile if they expose some sort of social ill, document human suffering or depravity, or combat the wrong doing of those in power. Anything else is fluff. And in the service of social change no one, not the soldier, the doctor, or the civic leader, can match the courage and power of the photographer and the reporter.
I’d like to say that I valiantly stood up to these professors and combated the strident opinions of my classmates. Alas, I did very little of that. More often than not I kept my head down, with eyes towards graduation. As a conservative, you have to walk a fine line between standing up for what you believe in class, with its accompanying snickers and dirty looks, and not alienating yourself from fellow students and professors, whose assistance and cooperation you need. I’ll always remember, one afternoon, huddled together with a couple of my colleagues at work on a group project, sensing common ground, I suggested it was all right for journalists to be idealistic and also optimistic. One of my group members looked up at me, and sneered “Aren’t you supposed to be a Republican?”
At the end of the day, when that last class ended, I was satisfied with my education, value the friends and friendships I developed during this time, and a fondness for the university and the town it and I call home. Yet despite this, it is and will always be impossible to reflect back upon my experiences in school without recalling the arrogance of the professors, the groupthink of the students, and constant barrage of liberal half-truths that any independent thinking student must dodge on a daily basis.