In a recent column (link to, I reported on a growing free speech controversy involving UNC-Wilmington history professor Lisa Pollard and Michael Pomarico, chair of the UNCW College Republicans.
The controversy began when Pomarico wrote a letter to the editor claiming that Pollard had admitted to formerly having friends in terrorist networks during a recent university forum on the war in Iraq. Shortly after the editorial appeared it was yanked by the student newspaper when Pollard threatened to sue the paper, claiming that she had been libeled. Pollard also wrote e-mails to top university administrators accusing Pomarico of lying about her statements in the Iraq forum.
My recent editorial condemned the paper’s decision to pull the editorial and suggested that the paper simply add an editorial response by Pollard to the online edition of the paper after reposting the student’s editorial. I also suggested that the paper allow “any member of the university community to submit letters to the editor, in support of either the student or the professor.”
Unfortunately, that isn’t exactly the way things have played out.
Instead, the paper has decided not to put Pomarico’s editorial back on-line. The paper also allowed Dr. Pollard to run a letter to the editor defending herself and restating her position; namely, that Michael Pomarico is a liar. The only other letter to the editor, from another history professor, was also critical of Pomarico’s editorial. In other words, there were two opinions from two professors and none from students in that particular edition of the “student” newspaper.
To make matters worse, the paper published a “clarification” stating that Lisa Pollard claimed that Pomarico’s editorial was false and that the paper had no way of verifying his claims. This was despite the fact that they had no way to verify her claims either. Pollard also issued a statement to a local news station denying that she ever threatened the paper with a lawsuit. However, the following e-mail written by the editor of the student newspaper was sent to a student named Zeb Wright after his editorial was also pulled:
I heard you stopped by today wondering why your letter to the editor was
pulled, which you have the right to know. There was another letter to
the editor, written "against" the panel discussion in which a student
accused a panel member of saying certain things. The panel member said
she did not say such things, and threatened to sue our newspaper for
libel. The student stands by what he wrote, despite her claim.
As a result, we are in the middle of a huge legal mess, and as the
Editor-in-Chief I chose to pull both letters. The student claimed that
the paper had taken the panelist's side. Since we are student media,
run entirely by students and are completely self-sufficient, we have
little resource (sic) when it comes to legal matters.
I hope this answers your question. Unfortunetly (sic) I cannot go into further
detail at this time.
Thank you for your interest and participation with the Seahawk,
So, according to Pollard, Pomarico is lying about what she said in the forum and the newspaper is lying about her threat of a lawsuit.
But it gets worse. Another UNC-Wilmington professor (not the author of this editorial) is reporting that Pollard has accused her of organizing a conspiracy to falsely accuse her of claiming to have ties in terrorist networks. In other words, a professor has put the students up to it.
And it gets even worse than that. Several weeks ago, numerous students told me that Pollard had been attacking me in the classroom daily. Among her wild accusations were: that I have started a website devoted to maligning her character, that I have threatened to call the FBI unless Pollard could prove that she is not friends with terrorists, that I don’t have a doctoral degree, and that I don’t have tenure. Of course, none of these claims are true, but I haven’t threatened to sue Pollard.
Of course, I have considered calling Pollard to verify these claims. But the response will be predictable: those students are a part of the conspiracy, too.
Two weeks after Michael Pomarico’s editorial was pulled and one week after Lisa Pollard assumed de facto control of the student newspaper, Pomarico wrote a rebuttal editorial claiming that he can produce the names of several dozen students who can corroborate his story; namely, that Pollard did say she had friends in terrorist networks. And, to date, not a single person has come forward to state unequivocally that she was misquoted. Her defenders instead vaguely assert that her remarks were not to be construed as meaning that she supports terrorism. Of course, that was never Pomarico’s contention.
But the editor of the student newspaper (firstname.lastname@example.org) will not publish his rebuttal. They are understandably intimidated by the threat of litigation and by the lack of support from university faculty and administrators.
I am writing this editorial to urge the paper to reverse its position and to open up the newspaper for statements from both Pollard and Pomarico. I hope that readers will write to the editor to encourage her to take a stand against Pollard’s threatened litigation. I am certain that several attorneys will write offering to represent the paper in the event of a lawsuit. But I don’t think that litigation is likely.
If the paper does not reverse its position, the message is clear: If you threaten a lawsuit, you control the student newspaper. And the paper will believe you, no matter how many times you cry “wolf.”
Mike S. Adams (email@example.com) is an associate professor at UNC-Wilmington. He remembers a time when people settled their differences in the court of public opinion, not in a court of law.
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