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July 12, 2003
It's OK To Leave The Foundation

Mentored by the "[Conservative Movement's] best strategists and tacticians," Steve Hinkle, college Republican, has learned his lessons well. As a member of the Cal Poly College Republicans, Hinkle helps publicize campus appearances by black conservatives who specialize in detailing the evils of the civil rights movement, affirmative action, and federal welfare programs. At a school where non-white enrollment has been declining since 1995 and only 154 out of 17622 undergraduates identified themselves as "African American/black" in 2002, Hinkle argues against "the promotion of racial diversity." (Note: 2169 Cal Poly students chose not to specify their ethnic origins on enrollment forms, so there's probably more than 154 black students at the school.)

For his tireless efforts to, in the words of Young America's Foundation president Ron Robinson, change "the course of our schools and our country for the better," Hinkle has earned the #1 spot on the Young America's Foundation Club 100 list. As a Club 100 member, he gets free Peggy Noonan books, conservative videos, "exclusive Foundation merchandise," and an invitation to the Club 100 Reagan Ranch Retreat in Santa Barbara. (Here's a photo of Hinkle at the ranch, giving a limited-government thumbs-up to entrepreneur/entertainer/lecturer Reginald Jones.)

In recent weeks, Hinkle has been getting a fair amount of media coverage from the Washington Times, Fox News, and various other publications for his role in an incident that took place last November while he was posting fliers around campus for an upcoming speech by black conservative author Mason Weaver.

According to the Washington Times, Weaver's most recent book "argues that dependence on government programs is harmful to the black community and puts it in circumstances similar to slavery." Its title: It's OK To Leave The Plantation. To publicize Weaver's appearance at Cal Poly, Hinkle and his fellow College Republicans created a flier that simply included the title of Weaver's book, a photo of Weaver, and the time and location of the event. Here is a photocopy of the somewhat cryptic document.

When Hinkle tried posting one of these fliers on a public bulletin board in the school's Multicultural Center on November 12th, 2002, some black students who were reportedly meeting there as part of a Bible study group confronted him. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an organization that is now advocating on Hinkle's behalf against Cal Poly university administrators, the black students said "that they were 'offended' by the flier and that it was in violation of the Center's posting policy. Hinkle left to check the policy, confirming that he was indeed in compliance. While he was gone, one of the students called the university police. The officer summoned to the Center stated in writing that he was investigating a report of 'a suspicious white male passing out literature of an offensive racial nature.'"

Alas, neither FIRE's account of the incident, nor any of the subsequent media coverage it has inspired, explains what happened between November 12, 2002 and January 29, 2003, when "Cal Poly charged Hinkle with 'disruption' of a 'campus event.'" That is, did Hinkle return to the Multicultural Center after leaving to check the policy regarding flier-posting? Did the police have any contact with him on that day? Did the police file a report on the 12th, or shortly thereafter? (The "police report" posted on the FIRE website looks more like a letter than a formal police report, and it's dated February 17th, 2003.)

Perhaps most important, how did university administrators find out about this incident - did the police alert them? And if they did, how did they know to identify the "suspicious white male" as Hinkle? If it wasn't the police who alerted university officials, was it the black students? And if it was, how did they determine that the "suspicious white male" was Hinkle? Finally, did Hinkle report the incident to university administrators himself?

Instead of searching for answers to these questions, Fox News, the Washington Times, and all the other publications that have picked this story up have been content to simply play it as yet another egregious example of campus political correctness run amok: some black students discouraged Hinkle from exercising his right to free speech in a public location, and yet somehow he's been cast as the villain, forced to apologize for his actions or risk substantially consequences, including expulsion…

FIRE has also claimed that "Cal Poly is targeting Steve Hinkle for his membership in the apparently controversial Cal Poly College Republicans." Not surprisingly, Cal Poly has a different take on the incident. In a letter to FIRE, University Legal Counsel Carlos Cordova explains that "Mr. Hinkle was charged with engaging in conduct which disrupted a student meeting, a content neutral rule applicable to all students. He was not charged because of his political affiliation or because some members of our campus community considered the flyers he attempted to post to be offensive."

In other words, the university says it isn't a free speech issue at all: it's a "disruption" issue. But other than reply in a reportedly civil manner to the students who challenged his right to post a flier, what exactly did Hinkle do to "disrupt" this meeting, which sounded like a fairly informal event? According to this letter from FIRE, the Bible study group is not an officially recognized campus group, and at the time that Hinkle tried to post his flier, its members were simply sitting in a student lounge and eating pizza. Cordova implies that FIRE's version of the incident isn't accurate, but he doesn't specify why. Instead, he just insists that "many of [FIRE's] factual assertions concerning the circumstances related to the meeting Mr. Hinkle disrupted are incorrect."

Alas, none of the subsequent media coverage sheds any more light on the incident either. The students were meeting in a "student lounge area" in the Multicultural Center, but what does this mean exactly? Was it a large open space where lots of people were milling around? Was it a smaller, more private space with only the Bible study group present? Such distinctions would seem to have at least some bearing on how Hinkle's actions might have constituted a "disruption," and yet such questions are mostly overlooked. (The language used in this Washington Times article suggests the lounge was a somewhat private space, but ultimately it's unclear.)

Similarly, most of the media reports overlook an important detail from FIRE's account of the incident: Hinkle wasn't posting the fliers for the first time; he was "re-posting" them. In other words, it appears that these fliers were already known around campus, and already controversial enough so that some people had removed some of them. In his appearance on Fox News, however, Hinkle insisted that he had "no idea" why some students might find the flier problematic, even though the necessity of having to repost them must have given him some clue that at least some students deemed them offensive.

As it turns out, provocative flier-posting is a Cal Poly College Republicans tradition. In the wake of 9/11, the group posted a variety of fliers around campus. One depicted "Osama bin Laden sitting atop a flying carpet and riding in front of a fighter plane." Another "illustrate[d] the five-day weather outlook for Afghanistan with a mushroom cloud and temperature of 4500 degrees anticipated for the week's end." To publicize a campus appearance by entrepreneur/entertainer/lecturer Reginald Jones in 2002, they distributed "controversial fliers" that referred to Jones as "white liberal's worst nightmare."

Should such hackneyed attempts at political provocation be punishable by anything more severe than a summer Scarborough Country internship? Of course not. Free speech can be offensive. It can be provocative. It'd be nice if more conservatives acknowledged this fact instead of insisting that every expression of liberal sentiment is a crime punishable by Ann Coulter best-sellers, but ultimately conservative hypocrisy isn't much of a rationale for liberal hypocrisy.

And if Steve Hinkle truly did nothing more than attempt to post a flier in a non-disruptive fashion in
a public place, it's fairly absurd that Cal Poly sees fit to punish him for such actions. But it also seems unlikely that Hinkle is completely dismayed by his predicament. Indeed, his letters to the campus newspaper suggest that it has been his goal for some time now to provoke his fellow students, and, in the words of Young America's Foundation president Ron Robinson, "complete our struggle."

In a letter he wrote to the campus newspaper the same week he was posting the Weaver fliers, he made the following comments: "This week Mason Weaver, author of It's Okay to Leave the Plantation, will be visiting campus to talk to students about the dangers of government dependency as well as the politics of race and poverty…These are issues that El Corral Bookstore obviously doesn't want you to know about, since they refused to carry even a single copy of Weaver’s book…I challenge everyone who reads this to find out for yourself what the bookstore doesn't want you to know." (Bold/italics mine.)

Earlier that year, he sent another missive to the campus newspaper: "Lately, significant attention has been paid to the promotion of racial diversity on campus. Everyone seems to agree that promoting racial diversity is a good thing – and why shouldn't we…However, we should all be against the idea, which is so proudly held by the Cal Poly administration, that racial diversity is something we should actively strive for if we ever hope to achieve academic excellence…So, next time someone mentions the need for racial diversity, including those at the Multicultural Center, challenge them to view others as individuals and not simply as members of a larger racial group. In the future we should hope that society would see the promotion of racial diversity for what it is: a front for racism." (Bold/italics mine.)

A college education should be challenging, no doubt. But certainly it's possible to challenge people's beliefs without always resorting to racially tinged provocation, especially at a school where less than 1% of the student body is black. On the one hand, it's possible that some of Cal Poly's students may have found the Weaver fliers offensive no matter how the College Republicans designed them. On the other hand, it certainly would have been easy to make the fliers less anonymous and context-free, and thus less vaguely threatening. In addition to challenging their fellow students, Hinkle and the Cal Poly College Republicans seem intent on antagonizing them as well. There's no law against that, but is it really necessary? Apparently when free Peggy Noonan books and other foundation hand-outs are to be had, it is.

Posted by Greg Beato at 11:27 AM
July 09, 2003
Savage Conspiracy

"There was a crank caller or worse..." reveals vitriolic daffodil Michael Savage. "A setup to destroy me in television orchestrated by unknown interests..."

Elsewhere on his website, Savage elaborates: "Out of nowhere a crank caller from a competitive talk show went from describing his airline horror story to making vicious personal attacks against me."

If you're not fluent in the delightfully paranoid patois of The Savage Nation, the San Francisco Chronicle provides some translation.

In plain English, a "crank caller from a competitive talk show" means "Bob Foster, 39, a Sacramento computer technician" whose hobby is prank-calling TV shows and giving "plug[s] to his favorite radio show, 'Don and Mike...'"

(Foster's website is worth a long visit. Lots of audio and video of the various pranks he's done, including the call that got Savage fired, and also a previous call to the petulant provocateur.)

Similarly, "vicious personal attacks" means that Foster told Savage that "Don and Mike should take over your show so you can go to a dentist appointment, because your teeth are really bad."

Ironically, Foster told the Chronicle that he's actually a Savage fan and that his "intention was not for him to get fired."

Savage, of course, isn't buying this, and frankly, neither am I. Could a lone computer technician really orchestrate the destruction of Savage's career via a couple of prank phone calls? To make this plan work, Foster first had to ensure that Savage's ratings were so low that MSNBC would find it extremely easy to part ways with him.

Then Foster had to somehow hypnotize Savage over the phone and turn him into a servile brain-slave: after all, if the dentally challenged talkshow host had simply responded to Foster's taunt by hanging up him, or even insulting him in a way that did not reveal his virulent anti-sausaugeism, MSNBC probably wouldn't have cancelled his barely watched show until, say, September.

Ultimately, it seems pretty implausible that Foster could have pulled off this feat without inside help. My theory: Savage himself was in on the plan, from the very start. To shore up his position as a dangerous media outsider too hot for liberal elite TV, he took the gig at MSNBC with the sole intention of getting fired.

And now, in the wake of his banishment, the erstwhile Allen Ginsberg groupie can milk his martyrdom for all it's worth: "They put the leper bells around me," he roared like a wounded chihuahua to the Chronicle. "I'm dead in the water on television...I am the underdog. I am Daniel in the lions' den. I am a victim...the left are like jackals in this country. They do not believe in freedom of speech, they only believe in freedom of their speech...It's been a struggle from day one. They don't want to switch to anything moderate or conservative. The bias is very liberal."

Posted by Greg Beato at 10:11 PM