An Investigation… into an Alleged Attempt to Discredit a Student Newspaper… that Criticized the VMI Administration

by James A. Bacon

There appears in the minutes of the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors meeting of July 13, 2023 an abbreviated mention of a very hot topic:

Mr. [Thomas E.] Gottwald raised concerns about the administration’s continued conflict with The Cadet newspaper. Five news articles have been written regarding a challenge to the Virginia Press Association’s awards given to The Cadet. [Board President Thomas R.] Watjen suggested a conversation be had to better understand the administration’s involvement with the news articles.

That would be the same independent student newspaper whose denigration by The Washington Post we have chronicled here on Bacon’s Rebellion. Although Superintendent Cedric Wins has publicly praised The Cadet for its prestigious award, allegations have been circulating that negative stories about The Cadet were prompted by the VMI administration itself. I have refrained until now from reporting on those charges, but they have surfaced in the VMI board meeting, in an online petition, and again in an article appearing in Cardinal News.

The controversy has grown to the point where Watjen has asked VMI’s university counsel, who reports to the Attorney General, to investigate whether VMI sought negative press about The Cadet and to report back to the Board in September.

A petition, found on, had called for a “public, fair, thorough, open, transparent, impartial, and equitable review/investigation” into VMI actions questioning the integrity of its cadets and alumni over awards made by the Virginia Press Association. Stories charging Cadet editors with failing to disclose a conflict of interest in one of its award-winning articles appeared most prominently in The Washington Post, which has been consistently hostile to VMI alumni backers of the student newspaper.

The petition goes on:

The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) administration, and some members of its Board of Visitors (BOV) have, or are seeking to: 1) restrict freedom of speech and viewpoint diversity at VMI by seeking to control, influence, shut down their student newspaper, one of the oldest independent college newspapers in Virginia; 2) publicly discredit and/or punish their own cadets for “speaking truth to power” and allowing all viewpoints to be heard by working with and/or influencing the media to question their integrity and discredit reporting that does not fit the administration’s agenda; and 3) conceal their potentially unethical and/or unlawful activities by deliberately planning to avoid public visibility of their actions.

In a letter posted on the VMI website, Watjen said, “

I have not yet seen any indications that the administration is intentionally engaged in proactively sharing information with individuals or news organizations to lead them to a particular story line, something implied by a petition being circulated in social media.”

Findings from an investigation, he added, will arm the board “to determine what, if any, additional actions may be required.”

If an investigation is conducted, credit Youngkin appointee Gottwald for pressing the case. Gottwald, who named his Richmond-based chemical company NewMarket Corp. after the famous Civil War battle in which VMI cadets fought, has emerged as a vocal and forceful Board of Visitors advocate. I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from him.

Correction: This post has been corrected to say that Watjen’s statement was posted on the VMI website, not obtained through a FOIA request as originally published.

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10 responses to “An Investigation… into an Alleged Attempt to Discredit a Student Newspaper… that Criticized the VMI Administration”

  1. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    So the board has succumbed to rumors and innuendo. Time for a thorough Benghazi-style investigation. Hooah!

    1. I’ll settle for nothing less than a “Blue Ribbon Committee” with broad authority to jump to conclusions and draft sternly worded letters…

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Post of the day, BTW.

  2. Some VMI alumni question how deeply any probe led by VMI Counsel Patrick O’Leary would delve. I received this from a correspondent:

    To be clear, Mr. O’Leary currently represents VMI in the case brought against the Institute for serious violations of procurement rules by Center of Applied Innovation, a company owned by Mr. Bob Morris, President of AFSA affiliate The Cadet Foundation. Mr. O’Leary is the subject of a current motion before the Rockbridge County Circuit requesting sanctions for making false representations and filings to the Court in that case and the motion will be heard August 30, 2023. Mr. O’Leary’s “report” to the BOV is scheduled for September 11, 2023. Mr. Morris has personally been attacked by VMI’s work with the Washington Post and Cardinal News, who are subjects of the “investigation”. Mr. O’Leary is also currently on the legal team representing VMI in an on-going $14 Million lawsuit brought against the Institute by a former deputy commandant for violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 and discrimination that The Cadet paper reported on and raised the VMI leadership’s ire. He previously conveyed threats, to include starting legal action on behalf of the Commonwealth, against cadets on the newspaper and the Cadet Foundation. These threats and other actions were included in the Formal Warning Letter sent to VMI by FIRE and the Student Press Law Center as well as formal complaints to the Virginia Attorney-General.

    1. Greg Long Avatar
      Greg Long

      VERY interesting and puts the entire announcement by the VMI BOV President into a VERY different, and important context. Before peopel start spinning one way or the other too much I encourge them, as I did, to actually READ the petition and WATCH the videos, ESPECIALLY the one at the end of the BOV Meeting with Mr. Gottwald… a BOV meeting that, interestingly enough, VMI had no intention of recording or allowing people to watch remotely by any means.

      What the petition asks for is an open, transparent, and truely independent investigation with results reported PUBLICALY. It mentions there are documents. It also notable that Mr. Watjen’s post on themain VMI page, an advantage he has over those raising the questions, pre-judges the outcome. I had to wonder.. what exactly is VMI afraid of?

      I rarely sign or share petitions but I did BOTH with this one… and contributed to have it promoted as there seems no legitimate reason NOT to have what it asks for. Here is the link:

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    “Although Superintendent Cedric Wins has publicly praised The Cadet for its prestigious award, allegations have been circulating that negative stories about The Cadet were prompted by the VMI administration itself.”

    Simple solution: Subpoena the WaPo reporters and force them to divulge their administration sources under contempt of court, or Miyares, or the BoV, or something. Oooh, oooh, lock ‘em in the Chapel basement with Traveller’s bones until they talk!

    Maybe you could sue ‘em for defamation like Faux News.

    Or, just polygraph every faculty and staff member! Give ‘em the 3rd degree. Use rubber hoses! They don’t leave marks.

    1. Greg Long Avatar
      Greg Long

      If you bothered to watch the video from the BOV you will see for yourself that Maj. Gen. Wins said something completely different in front of the BOV Executive Committe. That said, it is pointless to continue this as you are bent on making everything an extreme in order to addressing the very legitimate points raised in the facts Jim presents regarding VMI’s “investigator”.

      Simple solution is, and has always been, let someone completely seperate from VMI, without any influence from anyone, talk to all parties, examine the facts, and report to the taxpayers.

      1. smithh79 Avatar

        It’s interesting how much you care about VA taxpayers considering how far away you live.

        1. Greg Long Avatar
          Greg Long

          Where do I live?

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Pointless to continue, pointless to start.
        Tempest, meet teapot.

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