Monday, March 5

Pushing Ignorance: Julio "Assad" Pino


Last week, Julio "Assad" Pino, an associate professor at Kent State University (KSU), came under fire for posting on the now-defunct "Global War" blog (global-war.bloghi.com), a Web site purported to support al-Qaida, the Taliban, militant Palestinians, and opened "Are You Prepared for Jihad?"

Plenty of journalists and bloggers have covered the story, including: Markedmanner, which lists a collection of media and social media links related to Pino's history as well as the current story; and Bill Sledzik, an associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at KSU, on ToughSledding. Sledzik does his usual splendid job at dissecting the public relations aspects of crisis communication endured by KSU, including potential consequences such as "a handful of students will likely choose a different school next fall, and a few alumni may not send their checks this year."

At a glance, the surface story doesn't leave much left to write about. Peel back even one layer and you'll find a mountain of misconceptions and social media lessons that cannot be covered in a single post. This post, perhaps the first, specifically focuses on Pino's apparent ignorance of communication, academics, and history, one of the subjects he teaches.

Misconception 1: The First Amendment
When criticized for posting on the site, Pino claimed that "the Web site is not the issue - freedom of speech is the issue." This is not true. Although there is a petition being circulated to remove him from KSU, no one has attempted to silence or censor Pino's extreme and misguided views that I am aware of. In fact, given Pino refused interviews on CNN, Fox, and other media outlets, he seems to be his only censor.

Misconception 2: The Privacy Issue
As many executives, public figures, bloggers, and others sometimes claim, Pino attempts to use privacy as a protective shield, but only after his err in judgment is made public. Privacy in this case is invalid. Like anyone who addresses a public forum or publishes anything, Pino willfully surrendered his right to privacy the moment he took his views public. If you want to remain private, then remain private.

Misconception 3: Professor Privacy
Post-secondary education is a semi-public profession by its very definition. Unless you work exclusively within the research department or perhaps as an administrator (and even then, you have no guarantee your views will remain private), the very function of a professor is to facilitate the sharing of ideas and knowledge among a public audience (students) within the context of specific subject matter.

Misconception 4: Professor Privilege
The United States has traditionally been sympathetic to shielding those who hold extreme views within our education system, particularly in post-secondary education. However, most of these professors are sensitive to the fact that, by the very nature of their positions, their opinions carry more weight. The best professors spend more time telling their students "how to think for themselves" not "what to think." According to one account, Pino singled out and compelled a Jewish student to give the class lectures on Judaism and Zionism, which he followed up with inviting a guest speaker to refute the student's discussion.

Misconception 5: Forum Credibility
Writers, authors, and educators should always be mindful of their publishers (print or online), regardless of their story's context. While it might be appropriate to pen an opposition piece for a publication with an opposing viewpoint, it does not make sense to write ongoing supportive, or neutral "news" articles as Pino now claims, for a publication that endorses terrorism. The lesson: penning articles for a publication that encourages Jihad when supposedly you do not support Jihad (as Pino now claims) is unethical at worst and unduly increases the credibility of the publication at best, especially if you reference your credentials, which are an extension of your employer.

Misconception 6: Employer Credibility
Professors may benefit from having a greater appreciation for their employers, because, as noted, a professor's credibility is often an extension of where they teach. Pino's new claim that his views do not represent the university, after the fact, is disingenuous. On the contrary, he used his position to establish credibility on the Web site, which means he linked the school to his personal views. As an alternative analogy, one might conclude that you can be a vegetarian and work at McDonald's, but your employer does not have to retain you if you attend beef protests, especially if you represent yourself as a McDonald's employee in uniform.

Misconception 7: Misplaced Accountability
Pino has taken the position that he does not have to answer for what he wrote nor should he be held responsible or accountable for his public statements, leaving his employer, a taxpayer-funded educational institution, to bear the burden of the costs associated with crisis communication, public relations, and potential loss of credibility and revenue. He unjustly damaged not only himself and his employer, but possibly the entire faculty.

Misconception 8: Misdefining Martyrdom
Pino frequently demonstrates a severe misunderstanding of the term martyrdom, which he has professed can be attached to suicide bombers. This is grossly inaccurate. Martyrs are people who have their lives taken from them by others with an oppressive viewpoint, not someone who takes the lives of others to promote an oppressive viewpoint. The victims of terrorism (or extreme government oppression for that matter) are martyrs, not those who willfully steal the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of others. All nations and many factions have participated in such theft at one time or another, Muslim nations and non-Muslim nations alike. Few of us are proud of every aspect of our country's past, but we must remain vigilant in our quest to one day prevent mistakes and tragedies from reoccurring rather than obsess in our regret over things that were beyond our control or the national past that we inherited (I think our country's net sum is pretty darn good). Likewise, I do not believe it is wise to glorify those who target non-combatants as suicide bombers do. Americans weep for their children as much as Muslims do, Mr. Pino.

All in all, Tim Roberts' comments on ToughSledding are among the best anywhere: "The lesson learned here is when you write or say something as inflammatory as he did, you better be prepared for a reaction as strong or stronger. That is a human nature issue, not a freedom of speech issue. Pino is suffering the consequences of his own poor judgment. He is a victim of his own bravado."

Roberts is right. In addition, from my personal perspective, it seems to me that Pino would be happier pursuing another career choice, given that he has recklessly and needlessly damaged his employer's and colleagues' credibility without so much as an apology for his actions. I certainly do not advocate the threats he has received, but Pino should accept some responsibility as he has indirectly, perhaps directly, supported threats and action against others.

In sum, Pino is certainly entitled to his privacy and divergent viewpoints. However, one might wonder how long a professor may be allowed to ignite fires that he has no intention of putting out, unless of course, they threaten to burn him.

Partial kudos to the public relations team at KSU. However, I agree with several industry experts that it is wishful thinking that an employer can defend an employee with Pino's track record and not be linked to the story, especially when the employee advocates hatred toward his employer. KSU's crisis communication also comes up short in outlining any real remedy to the situation.

I submit that Sledzik may be right that most crisis communication tends to be similar to an earthquake (not his words, precisely). However, I am beginning to see more evidence to suggest the advent of social media has a greater propensity to act like a tsunami. The reality of public relations in today's world is that there is no longer a single epicenter; last week's quake could become next month's disaster several thousand miles away. And then, the shock wave may roll right back again.


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3 comments:

Bill Sledzik on 3/6/07, 5:43 AM said...

Rich,

I'm flattered by the attention to my post. I'm sure my employer would rather see it all go away. But as you point out, Kent State's association with Dr. Pino exists. He benefits from the credibility his position brings him, and we seem to be suffering from the notoriety his views bring us.

Tenure and academic freedom offer Pino a lot of protection, and in this case I think that's a good thing. The man is controversial, but from what I'm gathering on campus, he isn't nearly as outspoken in class as the media and the bloggers make him out to be. Most students like the guy and consider him a learned professor and effective teacher. So far I've not seen evidence of any offense that would justify his dismissal.

But academic freedom and tenure cannot be used to shield one from accountability. And as you, along with several of my commenters point out, this is exactly what Dr. Pino would like it to do. Yes, you do have the protection of free speech. But you also must bear the consequences your words bring down upon you. It's something we tell our clients all the time, isn't it?

Rich on 3/6/07, 7:36 AM said...

Bill,

Yes, it is something I tell my clients all the time, but unfortunately not everyone does. As for the clients, sometimes they listen; sometimes they do not (which can certainly spoil a Friday afternoon).

Along those lines, part of the equation I've found interesting is that some clients seem inoculated against anything they say. Ann Coulter's comments, for example, were easily dismissed by the American Conservative Union because she is "is known for comments that can be both provocative and outrageous."

But I'm of the thinking such inoculation (not in practice, but in observation) is a choice with no middle ground. There can be no outrage if you're already positioned to be "provocative and outrageous" within a specific context.

It's difficult for me, personally, to defend some of Dr. Pino's ideas, but he does have the right to say it. Where he went wrong is that he said it and then ducked for cover because he seems conflicted in whether he wants to be provocative and outrageous or not.

He may have been better off accepting those interviews and taken the opportunity to present his message, whatever it might be. Then, even KSU would have cause to benefit, saying that he is controversial and a good teacher.

Instead, he came across as someone caught sneaking around with a double life. And that, unfortunately, does not make for effective teaching, where sometimes outspoken ideas are welcome, even if they are, in this case, misguided in partial endorsement of terrorism.

So he had a choice. Speak to the history of events that have lead some Muslims to interact within the world the way they do. Or, be the outrageous professor nobody agrees with but is respected for being provocative and wearing his feelings on his sleeve. Looking at his history, he seems to have a tendency to attack and retreat. As you say, only he benefits from this at your expense.

You know ... in for a pinch, in for a pound. There is no middle ground. Accountability is the responsibility that comes with free speech.

In contrast, what you have written on this case is an excellent example of what more teachers could do: make observational comment within the context of their field of study. Now that is smart, and everyone benefits.

Anonymous said...

Think about it, punk motherfucker:

The Messenger (saaws) says: Whoever sincerely asks Allah to award him with martyrdom would be given the rewards of martyrs even if he dies on his bed (Related by Muslim) Asking Allah to die as a shaheed pleases Allah because it shows him that you are willing to give your life for him. A person who truly asks for shahadah would respond to the call of Jihad whenever he hears it and would eagerly search for death in the path of Allah. The reason why the enemies of Allah succeeded in defeating some Muslims and taking over their land is because they have lost their love for martyrdom. The Messenger of Allah (saaws) says: Nations will attack you like a group of people eating from a plate. The Companions said: Is that because we will be few in numbers?o He said: No, you will be numerous but you will be like the foam of the sea, and Allah will take away from the hearts of your enemies the fear of you and Allah will cast in your hearts owahano They said: What is owahano, O Messenger of Allah? He said: The love of this world and the hatred of death. Our culture of martyrdom needs to be revived because the enemy of Allah fears nothing more than our love of death.

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