The media and the damage doneWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Two Toledo women lost their jobs this week as a result of interacting with newspapers.
Crystal Dixon and Joanne Wack have seen their careers and lives altered in ways they could not have imagined when May began, and while neither of them are exactly victims, their paths to public notoriety are strikingly different.
Crystal Dixon read a newspaper opinion column she did not agree with. She responded to it. As has been over-chronicled by everyone from us to Rush Limbaugh, she was fired for her comments, which were published online.
The slow build of attention from national media sources has been fascinating. Misconceptions, agendas and falsehoods pepper the conversation, which started in parallel streams of gay media and religious media, then crossed over to Brit Hume on FOX, Limbaugh, National Review, American Spectator and more. If you deduce a right-leaning tendency there, you’ve successfully connected the dots.
Dixon’s comments, which disparaged the struggle of gays’ civil rights, compromise the stated mission of her former employer, the University of Toledo. It is impossible to reconcile her personal beliefs with UT’s values and responsibility to be open and accessible to all students. Dixon compromised the institution’s reputation and standing with her narrow and ill-informed remarks.
And UT was wrong to fire her.
I know there are many shades of gray to this conversation, but the simplest reduction is this: Crystal Dixon was fired for expressing her opinion. That’s not supposed to happen in America. That the punishment was doled out by a university makes it that much more offensive.
How many UT employees are going to rush to send letters or comments on controversial topics? The effect of the Dixon firing is a chilling of free speech rights. We can argue about common sense and employee loyalty and all the nuances of this case, but to reiterate, someone was fired for speaking her mind, and how can exceptions be made to free speech? Dixon did not yell “fire” in a crowded gay bath house, she expressed her mostly religious-based beliefs in a guest column.
Dixon voluntarily took a stand in a newspaper and has paid a terrible price.
Joanne Wack has also paid a steep price, but not voluntarily. Here is a rough chronology of Blade headlines from the news and opinion pages of the last few weeks: “GOP chief admits felony record;” “GOP chief had other brushes with law;” “It’s all about perjury;” “County GOP ‘out of Wack’ with times;” “GOP’s Wack stole silver in ’89;” “GOP director resigns after revelation of felony conviction.”
I do not know Wack, the former executive director of the Lucas County Republican Party; I have never met her or spoken to her. It’s clear she is no saint. But having your every foible played out in the daily newspaper is humiliating and devastating, especially when the reporting, wielding an agenda as subtle as a bludgeon to the skull, creates the perception of unequal treatment.
As Lisa Reneé Ward, operator of Glass City Jungle and a Toledo Free Press contributor, wrote after Wack resigned, “I’m personally disappointed that equal focus on questionable behavior was not deemed important by our daily paper … I’m sure there are lots of people willing to put in more than 40 hours a week, spend most of their weekends helping electeds/candidates, get very little credit for what they do, have their personal life put on display, their past searched, be video-taped and tape-recorded without permission and be made the focus of something that really had nothing to do with them at all and all of that “fun” … It’s a real lesson to anyone out there who wants to become more involved in politics or work for a political party to think long and hard before you do it. Especially if you end up being on a hit list … She’s not the first person thrown under a bus, nor will she likely be the last.”
So, UT employees and aspiring Toledo politicians may have something in common: they both fear reprisals from interacting with local media. And whether you throw yourself under the bus or someone shoves you there, the view of the crushing axels is the same.
Editor’s note on Dean YT Lee
Last year, I joined an advisory board for the UT College of Arts & Sciences dean, Yue-Ting Lee. I do not become involved in many such causes, as there’s too much potential for conflict, but helping the A&S college and its communication/journalism department seemed safe.
On March 28, Toledo Free Press published a guest column by Lee, “Economic development and a liberal education.” It was subsequently brought to our attention that two sources in the column were identified by Lee, but proper attribution to some of the sources’ comments was missing.
After a lengthy investigation by Toledo Free Press Staff Writer Scott McKimmy, discussions with Lee and statements submitted by the original authors, we determined that while there was no deliberate intellectual theft or damage claims from the original authors, Lee failed to properly employ the quotation marks that delineated his words from his sources’.
We apologize to our readers for any confusion, and we are posting Lee’s column on our Web site with proper attribution.
I resigned from the A&S advisory board on May 9.