What kind of columnist would find pleasure in writing a column about a few out of context snippets from an email exchange with an unnamed interlocutor? The Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s Paul Greenberg is that kind of columnist.
His column published today is written in the form of a letter to an unnamed University of Arkansas professor who apparently objected to Greenberg’s editorial attacks on the University’s changed curriculum requirements (these attacks have become kind of an idee fixe of Greenberg’s). Of the unnamed professor’s emails, Greenberg quotes only about ten lines, incoherently and out of context, but insinuates that if he quoted more of them, they would be “embarrassing enough”, “revealing of a particular cast of mind among the American professoriate”. But readers never get the chance to decide for themselves whether this unnamed professor’s views are really that embarrassing because Greenberg writes mainly about himself, basking in his own smugness, reveling in the power his editorial perch gives him to insult others who don’t have nearly the same clout to fight back.
Or do they? The unnamed professor could have had his/her view published as an opinion piece but refused, says Greenberg:
“As for your informing me that “I do not approve my previous emails to be published in the Arkansas Demokrat-Gazette,” I have to tell you we don’t need your approval to publish them – not in a free country with a First Amendment.”
Greenberg is of course wrong here. The First Amendment gives us the right to speak or be quiet, but it doesn’t give Greenberg the right to publish another’s speech against that person’s wish. There is something called copyright, and it is illegal in this our free country to publish a substantial piece without the author’s (or copyright holder’s) permission. Incidentally, if I ever were inclined to copy articles from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette verbatim on this blog here without the paper’s express approval, I wouldn’t have to wait long for mail from their attorney. The unnamed professor was fully within his/her right to demand his/her emails not be published. There are exceptions to be sure – Greenberg might claim that the professor was a public figure and the emails were of sufficient public interest to override copyright. But that decision would have to be justified by the news editor, not the opinion editor.
Greenberg chides the unnamed professor for deciding “not to join this free-for-all, otherwise known as the vortex of public opinion, and (declining) to exercise your First Amendment rights on this occasion”. “Just for the record”, we need to point out that Greenberg is being dishonest here. Those who disagree with the ADG’s editorial line are frequently denied their First Amendment rights – by Greenberg and his colleagues. Which is precisely why this blog came into being.
So what we are left with is Greenberg’s one-sided account of an email exchange with an unnamed person who refused consent to publish his/her emails for reasons we don’t know. Why is that fodder for a column? Because it gives Greenberg a chance to talk about himself, which is probably his preferred topic anyway. And I wouldn’t mind if he stuck to his egocentric little world, instead of venturing into issues he doesn’t understand, if he could refrain from insulting others along the way. I do hope though that the unnamed professor changes his/her mind and takes Greenberg up on his challenge by sending him a pointed rebuttal, as insulting as it needs to be, with permission to publish. If Greenberg refused then, he’d be exposed. If not, we might finally get to read something worth reading on the Ark Dem-Gaz opinion page.