It was a story perfectly designed for the new journalism model of “outrage clicks.”
“Cornell Assistant Dean: Why Yes ISIS Is Welcome on Campus,” blared Townhall. "Cornell Dean Says ISIS welcome on campus in undercover video,” screamed the New York Post – with an uncharacteristic lack of wit or brio.
The subject of the articles was a new video put out by professional provocateur James O’Keefe. In it, an activist posing as a prospective student queries Cornell Assistant Dean Joseph Scaffido about a club he would like to start should he end up attending the school.
A few days later, O'Keefe struck again. On Monday, his organization released a new video, this one filmed at Barry University in Miami. Again, this video was billed as revealing college administrators to be A-OK with ISIS. "Barry University officials approve club raising money for ISIS in video," read one representative headline.
Except, there are several problems with the videos. For one, in the Cornell video, the supposed prospective student never even uses the term “ISIS.” He says instead that he is interested in “starting a humanitarian group that supports distressed communities in . . .northern Iraq and Syria.” This is, frankly, a laudable mission.
“I think it would be important for especially those people in the Islamic State [of] Iraq and Syria,” he continues, “the families, and the freedom fighters in particular . . . I think it would be important to send them care packages whether it be food, water, electronics.” It takes a tortured reading here to see this as a pro-ISIS sentiment. To any right-thinking person, the “freedom fighters” would be those fighting against ISIS. O’Keefe’s actor never suggests otherwise. Later, the provocateur suggests bringing a “freedom fighter” to campus, and Dean Scaffido appears open to the idea. Again, though, because it’s never made clear that the “freedom fighter” is supposed to be an ISIS terrorist, the Dean hasn’t done much wrong. Would O’Keefe object to a campus hosting a member of the Peshmerga?
The Barry University video is similarly flawed. The undercover operative -- in this case, an actual Barry University student -- is very vague about her aims. She says she wants to start a "humanitarian" club. "I want to start fundraising efforts on campus, and what I want to do is raise funds overseas," she continues. Employing the (yes, flawed) logic of State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, she states she wants to send money to Iraq and Syria in order to "create jobs" and therefore "reduce terrorism." Let that sink in: She explicitly says she hopes to reduce terrorism.
Even the most ostensibly damning part of the video -- when she actually uses the term ISIS -- is not as alarming as you may think.
"We want to send aid to ISIS," the young woman says. Then -- after a mysterious edit -- the operative doesn't quite follow through. Rather than say she wants to send ISIS arms, she instead says she wants to send "papers and pens, and support the women and the children." She says she wants to do that, because if she does, "they wouldn't be commiting these acts." Again, attibuting terrorism to a lack of paper and pens is the kind of dubious logic that only Marie Harf could espouse. But it should be needless to say that if your aim is to reduce terrorism . . . you are not pro-terrorism.
So the videos are shoddy. But there’s a deeper problem here. Conservatives spend a lot of time – rightly – condemning campus speech codes, and the calling attention to the ever-narrowing parameters of what is seen as acceptable speech at our nation’s schools. This is important and worthy work.
At one point in Cornell video, Dean Scaffido says, “The university is not going to look at different groups and say you’re not allowed to support that because we don’t believe in them or something like that.” In the Barry video, university bureaucrat Derek Bley says, "We're not here to limit people and their clubs."
Words to live by. Rather than jeer Dean Scaffido and Mr. Bley, conservatives should be cheering them.