When it comes to the Park Lecture, Dean Susan King isn’t here to choose someone she likes.
Personally, King said she doesn’t enjoy watching Tucker Carlson, or anyone who spends cable time telling her what they think over and over again. But when King got the opportunity to have Carlson speak at the 2018 Roy H. Park Distinguished Lecture on April 12, she took it.
“I’m not picking role models. I’m picking people who have an influence on the media,” King said. “I want these players to see my students at Chapel Hill, because I think my students are smart. I think they’re insightful.”
Although the School of Media and Journalism introduced Carlson as “conservatism’s bright young wit,” current students and alumni fiercely criticized the choice on social media. Many believe he demonizes immigrants and is a favorite of the alt-right. Most recently, Carlson began a series called "Men in America" focused on empowering men in the United States. He announced the series on International Women’s Day.
But King said she doesn’t see the controversy. Although she read the editorials and columns on The Daily Tar Heel, she said only one person, an alumn, contacted her directly to express their grievances.
“There’s a lot of stuff on campus that makes people uncomfortable this year, like the Silent Sam controversy,” King said.
Like King, journalism professor Chris Roush said he’s seen the mood in the school and country change, but he believes it’s because of the election of Donald Trump.
“I think that people are less accepting of other controversial speakers, either on the left or on the right these days,” Roush said. “And I think that the opposition to those speakers, whether they’re from the left or from the right, are more vocal today than they were three or four years ago.”
Of the previous six Park Lectures, four have been from Fox News, a cable channel known for its right-wing views. A recent DTH editorial argued that the Triad Foundation, which funds the lecture, has a clear preference toward right-wing media.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all (that so many lecturers have been conservative),” Roush said. “I know the Park family is conservative and that’s what they want.”
King had a concise answer when asked if the Park family had any influence over the speaker.
“No,” she said.
King said that although the Parks have speakers in mind, some years they have no involvement in choosing the lecturer.
King likes to choose people who represent big moments from the past year. Last year, Chris Wallace hosted a presidential debate, and she believes he did the best job at it. This year, she believes Carlson represents a shift toward opinionated, partisan television hosts dominating primetime news.
“In this day and age, with the kind of partisan politics in the country, almost everything is controversial,” King said. “I want our students to meet and see and question people.”
Despite the outcry from students on social media, some support Carlson coming to speak at the school.
“The point of college is to learn and to be exposed to different things, and I feel like if you prevented people from coming just because you didn’t like what they said, you’re limiting how you can learn and how you can grow,” said sophomore Anna DiGiacomo.
If anything, King said she wants students to challenge and question Carlson.
“Our core idea at this school is to ignite the public conversation, so there’s nothing off the record,” King said. “I want to have the school deal with the big issues on campus … this is your opportunity to hear people who you think are troublesome players in our society.”
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