UNC School of "Journalism"

Updated with corrections.

In case you missed reading it in the New York Freakin' Times this morning, the UNC School of Journalism has been spending your tax dollars promoting and defending a hit-piece on John Edwards.

I discovered the story on the blogs yesterday, where the Dome did the best job tracking the events. Here's my take on what happened.

1. A UNC student approached Edwards campaign under what were probably false pretenses to do a hit piece. The campaign cooperated.

2. The student produced a video, which was judged by a Republican faculty member to be fair and balanced. The dean of the UNC J-School also signed off. Apparently neither (they are husband and wife) put much stock in accuracy. The video opens with a factual error about the Southern Village being the most expensive part of Chapel Hill, which is simply not true. (CORRECTION: I do not know the party affiliation of the faculty member involved - and that faculty member is NOT the husband of the dean. See comments below.)

3. When they found about about the video, the Edwards campaign then contacted the student and the faculty adviser. According to those two, the campaign demanded the video be pulled and threatened the student. No names were given and no direct quotes were offered to back the claims of "demands" and "threats."

4. The faculty adviser then went public saying that students need to hold their ground in the face of disgruntled sources, even when that source is a candidate for president. Please see my comments below (which I posted to the faculty adviser's blog.)

Did the Edwards campaign behave badly in this? Probably, but there's only the word of a Republican faculty member and a seemingly Bushbot student to go on, so you'll forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical. But even if they did, is it the proper role of a state-supported blog and a state employee to ignite and fan the flames of controversy?

Note to J-School: You know all those solicitations you send me for contributions? You might want to save yourself some postage in the future.


For the record, the faculty adviser, Leroy Towns, used to be a senior staffer and campaign manager for Senator Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas. Wrapping up the sad saga this morning, Towns posts to his own taxpayer-supported blog in an attempt to turn the travesty into a "teachable moment." You can read all about it here where I hope my own comment will eventually clear through the site's moderators. Just in case that doesn't happen, this is what I wrote: (CORRECTION, the faculty adviser is not Leroy Towns. The faculty adviser is Charlie Tuggle.)

As a graduate, I have had many occasions to be embarrassed by the School over the years, but this one takes the cake. I followed the story closely as it unfolded in the blogs, and found opportunity for plenty of criticism all around. The Edwards campaign perhaps behaved badly, but faculty and students have nothing to be proud of either.

The first problem is the “story” itself. I use the word in quotes because the actual video is clearly a hit piece that is both factually incorrect and sloppy. In the good old days, such a piece would have received an automatic F - or at least been relegated to the back of a remedial editorial-writing class.

The second problem involves the overblown rhetoric involving “threats” and “demands” supposedly made by the Edwards campaign. Nowhere do we have exact quotes of anything said by anyone involved besides the inept student “reporter” and the writer of this blog.

The third problem is this comment by that very writer, which appeared Under the Dome:

“The Carolina Week staff learned the importance of standing their ground against a disgruntled source, even when that source is a candidate for president.”

As both a technical and practical matter, no candidate for president was a source in this dispute. Nor is there any evidence that a candidate for president was disgruntled. Mr. Towns was either sloppy or purposeful in implicating Edwards personally.

North Carolina’s newspapers are bordering on disgraceful these days, filled with bush-league reporters, factual errors, “gotcha” stories and corporate agendas. Now at least we know one source of that sad state of affairs: the UNC School of Journalism.

Full disclosure: My wife teaches in the School of Journalism. She has no knowledge that I'm writing this and no involvement in my online political activity.


Did you know she was a registered Republican?

I know some people don't think that matters, but if you lived here you would. I take personal offense that this girl would not bother to talk about the positive environmental impact of a campaign office being located in Southern Village. At one point, over 80% of the staff (based on my loose polling) were walking or biking to work. Every time I am in the local organic co-op grocery store I see someone I recognize from the campaign, including people like David Bonior and Joe Trippi. This campaign has bought into a walkable-lifestyle for their employees, which means no driving to work, no driving to the grocery store, to hte bookstore, to the coffee shop, to the movies, to the bars, to dinner, to breakfast, to the cleaners....you get the picture.

Fair and balanced indeed. A journalist would have covered this aspect, but let's face it, this teenie-bopper wanted one thing - which she got - her 15 minutes of fame. Expect to see her on Fox and Friends tomorrow if not sooner.

One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it. - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.

My husband asked me about this last night

as we were falling asleep. He figured I know all about it because of BlueNC. (He thinks y'all know everything.)

I figured it was something stupid like this when hubby said "they said that it was a UNC journalism student, and something about Southern Village being only for the richest people in Chapel Hill"

I decided it was stupid and didn't get up at 2 am to see what was going on.

But you know what A, you're right - the teacher is paid with tax money (as well as tuition.) It's a difficult position, because we don't want how a teacher is paid to influence how they teach, and yet, we don't want their politics significantly influencing their curriculum. Sticky wicket, I'd say.

The best response from the Edwards campaign - another J student, doing a better piece, and showing them side by side.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

That WOULD be the best response, lcloud.

Brilliant, I'd say. :)

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Our local Raleigh Reich Wing Radio lack-of-personality

was going off on this issue yesterday afternoon during my drive home from Sanford to Greensboro.

It never fails to amaze me how much John Edwards scares the hell out of the Republics. They simply cannot get enough talking points to use when it comes to him. I don't hear this stuff regarding Obama. Hillary gets the usual talking points. They seem to go out of their way to attack Edwards.

I guess having great plans as a leader that Americans can get behind really brings out the jealousy in the wingers. Or the fear.

North Carolina. Turning the South Blue!

North Carolina. Turning the South Blue!


I've been a little aghast about this whole story since I first read about it on "Under the Dome," but didn't feel inclined to comment on it because I find the whole thing to be rather silly. I mean, honestly...are we really taking time to respond to a piece where the lead critic, DTH columnist James Edward Dillard, feels obliged to quote "the poet Jay-Z?" Really? It's clearly fluff. This is a segment for Carolina Week and MTV, not the evening news...and as such, not worth any legitimate discussion.

That said, I feel obliged respond to the criticism both you and Robert P. level at Carla Babb.

I know Carla...actually, if you went to NC State at the same time as she did, it was hard not to know Carla because she was active in so many different communities: Athletics, Student Government, Senior Class Council, University Scholars, CHASS student organizations, CSLEPS and Greek Life. Because my level of involvement rivaled hers (unfortunately for me, our grades weren't nearly as comparable), our paths crossed often and I got to know her well.

And yet, as many times as we worked on projects together, as many times as our paths crossed, I never knew she was a Republican until I read the comments at Under the Dome (we did, however, have several discussions about her internship with Bob Etheridge because I know a lot of folks in Etheridge's office). That's the benefit of working on issues on a college campus, I guess...no one really cares about the partisanship, only the principles matter. I know that when important issues came up--tuition/fees, financial aid, fundraising, improvements on Hillsborough Street, etc.--Carla was always there to lend her insight and helping us in building our grassroots support.

I was particularly impressed with the work she did on the "Wave of Relief" campaign, which raised money at NCSU for victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia and Africa. Later, she'd give up her winter break to travel to Sri Lanka with 21 other members of the NC State community to aid in the rebuilding process (she and others blogged about their experience on the N&O's website). I think that says more about the kind of person she is than whatever inferences you might derive from this short fluff news clip or her political affiliation.

You don't know her so calling her a "Bushbot" seems unnecessary. If you've got a disagreement with the substance, fine, but let's at try least keep the discussion amicable. As much experience as we've had with having our opinions silenced and marginalized because of our political affiliation, you'd think Democrats would be hesitant to do the same to others. Or not...

Note: For the record, it was Dillard who wrote a column about this topic back in September. Why not target your criticism towards him? Does his unaffiliated voter registration status not offer room for assumptions about his character?

There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracts. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of the comfortable past which, in fact, never existed. - Robert F. Kennedy

There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of the comfortable past which, in fact, never existed. - Robert F. Kennedy

Fair enough.

Bushbot criticism withdrawn with sincere apologies.

My beef is with the J-school, not with Babb. And it doesn't matter to me which party she (or Dillard) is affiliated with. This isn't about them and I shouldn't have said anything about her - though I did use the adverb "seemingly" . . .

I hasten to add

There are a lot of great things about the J-school - and I personally got a lot out of being there (1977 - 1980) for graduate studies. Plus, as I said, my wife teaches there. I know lots of faculty members and they do a great job from what I can tell. So just to be clear, this commentary isn't about a general demonizing of the school. I would hope that this particular breakdown is an isolated event.

"Anglico's" j-school comments

To Jim Protzman, aka Anglico:

Hey, Jim,
Sorry you are so sour about the j-school. There are good people and good students here. Cut the students a little slack. Because of your connection, you should have an appreciation for accuracy. To correct you, I am not the faculty advisor to Carolina Week, I had nothing to do with the video, I did not confer with the Dean and I posted to my blog only because the situation concerned an issue with political communication. Further, to correct another post on this blog, I have no connection to the Pope Foundation and indeed have never talked to anyone there. I take responsibility for what I write by posting over my own name.

Thanks, Leroy. I stand corrected.

Just to be doubly clear, I'm not sour about the J-School. If you'd read my posts and comments, you'd know that. I'm sour about this particular issue and the way the school has handled it.

Thanks for the correction. I got the faculty adviser details wrong and I apologize for that. Corrections have been made. (Charlie Tuggle is the faculty adviser. )

My other concerns remain: the factual inaccuracy of the video, questions about the nature of the "demands" and "threats" by the Edwards campaign, and your implication that the source in this dispute was "a candidate for president."

The post you referred to regarding the Pope Foundation was written by an anonymous commenter named MaxtheDog. I have no idea who Max is and I did not support or concur with anything he wrote.

To your final point, my name is James Protzman, as anyone can easily see.

I have a few questions, Leroy

While YouTube may be considered a "Public Access"-type outlet, with multitudes of uncensored and unedited (for content) videos, is it not still an international publishing entity, with the potential for a huge viewership? Is it wise to guide students to publish in a medium which will accept anything?

Aside from the fact that Carla seems to have been following up on Dillard's blog (which means the focus of her story was set from the beginning), her intent appears to have been to call into question Edwards' focus and commitment to solving poverty. In light of this apparent goal, don't you think she should have consulted a few folks from the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity:


to find out about what John has actually done/is doing on this subject?

My last question is: do you have any idea how bad that looks, for the University as a whole?

Aww come on Steve.

As Mr. Towns says, cut the students a little slack. They're just in training to be vital watchdogs of freedom and democracy. You can't expect them to be held accountable for thoughtful reporting.


Everything's a learning experience, right?

The thing is, Carla seems to be a damned smart girl. She's been exposed to a lot of things the average grad student hasn't been, from working in Guyana to working on the Voice Of America staff, as well as walking the floor of Congress.

I find it extremely hard to believe she was/is unaware of the Law School's Poverty Center, or John Edwards' critical involvement with such. Which means, she pursued the angle of this story with the knowledge that it was subjective and incomplete, and that is exactly the opposite of the ethics that Charlie Tuggle has published and taught about. The fact that he (Tuggle) sees no problem with this story is even more confusing (to me).

Wow, thanks for Carla Babb's

Wow, thanks for Carla Babb's student government resume from undergrad.

Carolina Week is just a horrible show about insignificant things in general (or re-doing significant stories already done better by actual journalists). I'd wager that the 2,000 estimated viewers is a really high estimate -- do they count channel surfing? UNC spends a disproportionate amount of money on basically helping a select few journalism-school students wearing 10 lbs. of makeup churn out glorified morning weather gal audition tapes.

And, considering she's apparently a graduate student, you'd really hope that Carla Babb would be doing something a little higher quality than an "in-depth" "exclusive" "he-said/she-said" between an intern and a college newspaper columnist who clearly thinks it's hilarious he's even being interviewed in the first place and is assuming that about 12 people will see it. And only about 12 people would have seen it...

Except in keeping with the "amateur hour" theme of the piece, the Edwards campaign had to get involved and kick the snowball down the mountain. Great move.

Ahaaaaa! The camel Pope is under the tent of UNC again!

For the record, the faculty adviser, Leroy Towns, used to be a senior staffer and campaign manager for Senator Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas. Wrapping up the sad saga this morning, Towns posts to his own taxpayer-supported blog in an attempt to turn the travesty into a "teachable moment.* A

Dig deep enough and you will find old good Art Pope up to his camel ass in this little plot since he can't get control of UNC......If it walks like a Pope, talks like a Pope, than it has to be a Pope

Having trouble sympathizing with the Edwards campaign

I just can't see this. Yes, I'm pretty angry about it -- just who the f*** do the Edwards folks think they are trying to tell journalism students what they can and can't put on a student-run news section? They're pissed about being misled about the content of an article? Like they're the only ones that happens to. (That article was a long time ago, but it was a pretty frustrating experience for me.)

Academic freedom is absolutely critical to a full academic experience. In my mind, there's only one group that needs to apologizing here, and it's the Edwards campaign. Heads should roll for this.

my objection

When I saw the piece, she seemed to make it seem like this office in Southern Village was the subject of debate in Chapel Hill. Based on what? Fluff is too deep a word for this piece. You know, my late father-in-law was a journalism professor and I really loved him, but am so glad he passed away in the mid-90s and did have have to witness what has become of journalism in this country. He devoted himself to helping women and minorities enter journalism and would have been so broken to see the intellectual weakness of reporting like this.

Really, the J-schools need to step up and counter these sad trends.

This could end up being another

haircut episode for the Edwards campaign. Ok, even if the piece was slanted it still would have existed only in it's own little slice of the media world. Now it's out there and getting play in the MSM. And the Story isn't the poorly done, misleading or slanted media story, it's the Edwards campaign's heavy-handedness.

Person County Democrats

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

What makes me mad

is the fact that The Edwards Campaign has the time to get into this pointless dispute. Like they are leading the polls or something...... Let's talk turkey. The campaign is not going well and seems to be only getting worse. This incident makes the Edwards camp and Edwards himself look arrogant and petty by going after a student. Who cares!! They made it a mainstream media story by going after this girl. Focus on what's important. This silly video is not.

I agree

Although this certainly was not a fair piece in my view, if the Edwards campaign had ingored it, she might have gotten a couple thousand hits, MAYBE. Her interviews with Dole and Price have fewer than 100! When I watched it this morning on youtube, there were 137,000+.

Did I miss something?

Did "Edwards himself" go after this student?

Or is this hyperbole?

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi


of course.

The Poet Jay-Z?

Did that kid really say that? What a tool. I weep for the future.

It's clear the angle she took was based on this clown's column -- she chose to portray his opinion of Edwards as if it were actually political analysis. Pretty typical of TV journalism, actually. She was operating like 99% of all TV journalists these days -- lazy. I'm guessing it was more about her looking for an easy angle than any real malice. That's what TV journalism is all about these days. She'll fit right in.



TV journalism is indeed an oxymoron. I watch a local tv news show once a year just to remind myself of what I'm missing.

I only watch Countdown.

Keith Olbermann lets me know if there are any stories I've missed online that I need to catch up on.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi