When the UNC School of Media and Journalism announced conservative political commentator Tucker Carlson as this year's Park Lecture speaker, Twitter exploded. Angry responses poured in from disgruntled former and current students.
Complaints centered around Carlson’s far-right slant. After defending the “It’s Okay to Be White” campaign in November, Carlson was labeled as a white supremacist by many. And once Carlson called immigrants “people who snuck into our country and are demanding rights and money,” many added "racist" to the mix as well.
“With so many journalists doing admirable work to discover and disseminate truth, you select an unabashed propagandist?” Anna Hester (@annachaseunc) tweeted. “This J-school alum is disappointed and ashamed. You can do better.”
Beyond criticisms of his character, Carlson’s editorial role as a cable-news commentator also ignited frustration on Twitter.
"As an alumna, I'm appalled that the journalism school would promote Tucker as a distinguished speaker and model for students," Ruby (@rubymiene) tweeted. "He is a racist and exhibits no true journalistic principles. Is this where donor dollars are going?"
With the slew of frustrated responses extending beyond 70 to the school's original tweet announcing the speaker, it would be impossible for the MJ-School to miss the criticism.
“I think it’s healthy to have those criticisms. It’s healthy to watch my Twitter feed critique the School of Media and Journalism for its speakers,” said Daniel Kreiss, UNC journalism associate professor and moderator of this year’s Park Lecture. “That’s part of public debate, too.”
This isn't the first time a controversial speaker has come to UNC. Roger Ailes, former CEO of Fox News, delivered the Park Lecture in 2012, and last year, former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka delivered a speech amid student protests.
“There are a lot of speakers at college that a lot of people may like and a lot of people don’t like and this is just one of them,” said John Robinson, a UNC journalism lecturer. “Students need to see other opinions and other viewpoints. Despite what some commentators on probably Fox News say, students, at least at Chapel Hill in my experience, are not snowflakes.”
Robinson added that a New York Times reporter and an NPR reporter will visit UNC for a panel titled "Holding Power Accountable: Reporting on Sexual Misconduct" in two weeks.
“I think that students can learn from anyone regardless of what their opinions are,” Robinson said.
Kreiss likewise emphasized the importance of the college campus to exposing students to various viewpoints.
“I think personally that college campuses and universities should have a robust dialogue and discourse around political issues from all sides of the political spectrum,” Kreiss said. “To that end, I think that Carlson coming will provide an important forum for debate and discussion.”
Despite student frustrations, Kreiss remains optimistic for the lecture, where students will be given a platform to question Carlson.
“I would encourage those people who are upset about the speaker to come to listen to our panel because I think that we will provide a critical forum to talk about Carlson’s role in the media landscape and his work and his positions,” Kreiss said. “It does offer, at the end of the day, a pretty wonderful opportunity to question a leading, prominent media figure. How often do you get an opportunity to do that?”
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