Most of my colleagues at UNC-Wilmington understand the First Amendment when they are goring someone’s ox. But when their ox gets gored, they run for the nearest attorney or college administrator. It appears that UNCW history professor Lisa Pollard is now employing this tactic. And things aren’t working out the way she planned.
It all started about two weeks ago when a student came by my office to complain about remarks he claimed Pollard had made during a recent university-sponsored forum on the war in Iraq. During his visit to my office, the student claimed that Pollard publicly admitted to having friends in terrorist networks. Despite the fact that I knew the student well and considered him to be of the highest possible character, I have to admit that I had my doubts about his story.
But those doubts began to recede when I got a visit from another student named Michael Pomarico, chair of the UNCW College Republicans. Michael came by to show me an editorial he had written complaining about Pollard’s behavior during the aforementioned forum. His editorial corroborated the other student’s claim that Pollard had admitted to having friends in terrorist networks.
Last week, the first half of Pomarico’s editorial appeared in the student newspaper, The Seahawk. Later that day, the full version appeared in the online version of the paper. But it was only posted for a few hours. According to the paper, Pollard threatened The Seahawk with a libel lawsuit for publishing Pomarico’s editorial. As a result of Pollard’s threatened litigation, the paper decided to pull the editorial. Shortly thereafter, I contacted the student editor to ask whether her decision was influenced by the university administration. She claimed that she only consulted with a university staff member named Bill Dinome before deciding to pull the editorial. When I called Dinome, he steadfastly and belligerently denied any involvement in the decision. Later, after asking me to get off the phone unless I “had something important to talk about,” Dinome admitted that he really was involved in the decision to pull the editorial.
But the best part is yet to come. Pollard has now consulted a lawyer and is demanding a full apology from the student paper and from Pomarico. She did not follow my suggestion that she simply write to the paper to give her side of the story. Instead, she immediately decided to steer the controversy towards a court of law and away from the court of public opinion. The following excerpts come from an e-mail Pollard sent to the student newspaper, as well as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences:
“… I have consulted with a lawyer this weekend. This is what I have been advised to do. First, I want the Seahawk to print an apology in the next edition of the paper for having printed the letter without vetting it and without consulting with me about the veracity of the statements made about me. At the same time, I insist that Mr. Pomarico print--in the same edition of the paper--a recantment of his allegations about my "connections to terrorist networks" and an apology for libeling me. I want to read these statements before they go to press. It is important to me that these statements go in the next edition, because of the approaching fall break.”
In my opinion, Pollard has shown no interest in adding to the marketplace of ideas but instead seeks total control of the student newspaper. Otherwise, she will sue. But, as this controversy grows, Pomarico says that more students are corroborating his version of events. And another student recently told me that he is collecting a list of witnesses on his behalf. Thus, the irony of Pollard’s decision to threaten a libel lawsuit is that it may well get her sued for libel. Falsely accusing someone of lying is often actionable. It is also worth noting that Pollard’s above e-mail claiming that Pomarico misquoted her, actually misquotes Pomarico’s editorial. Her accusations against him have also been circulated to every top administrator at the university.
Had Lisa Pollard decided to simply publish an editorial in response to Pomarico’s, she would have been in better shape. Only a few hundred people would have read the editorials and the controversy would have blown over quickly. But now, people all around the country are reading about the incident.
Perhaps some of those reading this editorial remember when Pollard said the following, shortly after our nation was attacked in September of 2001: “At least 4,500 children die in Iraq each week due to American influence. What is it we can do, after bringing Mr. bin Laden to trial, to be less of a terrorist?” In other words, we’re all a bunch of terrorists here in America. That is, except for Lisa Pollard and all her friends.
The proper way to resolve the present controversy is for the student paper to reprint Pomarico’s editorial in its entirety in both the printed and online versions of the paper. They should then give Dr. Pollard an equal opportunity to rebut the charges. Finally, they should allow any member of the university community to submit letters to the editor, in support of either the student or the professor.
In the end, it is likely that one party will be vindicated, and one will be discredited. But, more importantly, the students will have control over their newspaper. Then we can talk about a free press in Iraq.
Mike S. Adams (email@example.com) is an associate professor of criminal justice at UNC-Wilmington. For simply daring to express a conservative opinion at his ultra-liberal university, he was once threatened with “libel.” You can read about it here.