Bad Journalism and Echo-Chamber References Lead to Libel at UVa

by James C. Sherlock

Mike Pence, agree with him or not on any issue, is a good man.

He has traditional values that have formed the basis of his political and personal lives. He is also a gentleman, unfailingly courteous.

Traditional values, traditional courtesy. Disconcerting, even threatening to some.

The Cavalier Daily. Jim Bacon wrote this morning of a Cavalier Daily editorial which opined that former Vice President Pence should not be allowed to speak on the Grounds of the University.

Dangerous rhetoric is not entitled to a platform, says the editorial headline. Speech that threatens the lives of those on the Grounds is unjustifiable, reads the sub-head.

A follow-up editorial by Sarita Mehta took the other side of the debate about allowing Mr. Pence a platform. Yet she accepted those editorial board summaries of his words without her own research.

As Don Rippert accurately pointed out, the references cited by the editorial board do not track either with Mr. Pence’s original words, or even with the summaries of those words in the CD editorial board’s links to other opinion pieces.

At what point did the Cavalier Daily editorial board stop going to original sources readily available online to form its opinions? Do they even realize that referencing others’ opinions in forming their own is both lazy and dangerous?

The results were objectively libelous to Mr. Pence.

Sarita Mehta. With defenders like Sarita Mehta, the former Vice President needs no enemies.

She writes “The existence of the racism, bigotry and hate espoused by Pence is deeply troubling.” Her validations of Mr. Pence’s “racism, bigotry and hate” all link back to the CD editorial board’s Dangerous rhetoric is not entitled to a platform, not her own research.

That editorial in turn misrepresented sources that themselves cited references selectively and improperly created a false narrative.

Bad journalism. These 3rd- and 4th-generation summaries of what Mr. Pence actually said have lost all contact with his original words and context. Some are outright lies. The CD editorial board would still disagree with his views, but they could not fairly label him as “threatening lives.”

The editorial board libeled Mr. Pence:

For Pence, gay couples signify a “societal collapse,” Black lives do not matter, transgender individuals and immigrants do not deserve protection and the pandemic should not be taken seriously.

Let’s take them one at a time.

“Gay couples signify a societal collapse.” Read the original text of Mr. Pence’s remarks in 2006 from which an earlier generation of critics who the CD quotes came to the conclusion that Mr. Pence believes “gay couples signify a “societal collapse”.

You will see that he actually said:

…emphatically that this debate today is not about discrimination. I believe that if someone chooses another lifestyle than I have chosen, that that is their right in a free society. But tolerance does not require that we permit our courts to redefine an institution upon which our society depends. Marriage matters according to researchers. Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin found that throughout history, societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family. (emphasis added)

I urge you to read the rest of his remarks at the link.

I am sure the CD editorial board does not agree with Mr. Pence, but do they truly believe that anyone is “threatened” by his remarks?

“Black lives do not matter.” That is simply made up out of whole cloth. He never said any such thing. The link cited in the CD editorial quotes Mr. Pence as saying

I really believe that all lives matter. And that’s where the heart of the American people lies.


…see(s) in the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement a political agenda of the radical left.

“Transgender individuals do not deserve protection.”

In 2006, then Indiana Governor Pence signed into law the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bill did not mention sexual orientation.

With the signing, Indiana became the 20th state in the nation to adopt such legislation. It is modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which President Bill Clinton signed in 1993. See the 2020 Congressional Research Service assessment of the federal law.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) establishes rights beyond those protections afforded by the Constitution’s free exercise clause by creating a heightened standard of review for government actions that substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.

The CD editorial board may conclude that Mr. Pence and Mr. Clinton intended that gay and transgender individuals “do not deserve protection.” But that is not a conclusion supported by the record.

“Immigrants do not deserve protection.” The reference in the CD editorial is a Fortune Magazine article. In it, Mr. Pence is quoted as saying

…the U.S. was right to embrace Venezuelan refugees — who say they want to return home after rule of law and freedoms are restored — even as the administration takes a more aggressive stance toward Central American immigrants, who he said are seeking a permanent life in the U.S.

There is no comparison between life in Venezuela under a brutal dictatorship and life in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, Pence said. Venezuela has imploded into dictatorship and tyranny, he added. This is a dictatorship that is tyrannizing its own people.

Our porous borders and the loopholes in our immigration law work a great hardship on vulnerable families by signaling that it’s worth undertaking a perilous journey with human traffickers to the U.S., Pence said. When we make it clear that we’re a welcoming nation but we welcome under the law, I think that’s the greatest kindness we can give to families that would otherwise be preyed upon and are preyed upon now.

How exactly does that equate to “immigrants do not deserve protection”? He, of course, said the exact opposite.

“The pandemic should not be taken seriously.” The reference cited is, as the others, readily available. If one were to actually read it, he would see that the Vice President spent most of his opinion piece in June of 2020 citing all of the ways the administration had taken the virus seriously. He finished with:

We’ve slowed the spread, we’ve cared for the most vulnerable, we’ve saved lives, and we’ve created a solid foundation for whatever challenges we may face in the future. That’s a cause for celebration, not the media’s fear mongering.

I find that substantively different than a conclusion that he said that “ the pandemic should not be taken seriously”.

Journalism. I searched the University course book for a course on Standards/Principles of Journalism. I found none. I am not surprised.

Read “The rise and fall of a J-School at UVA” from the Spring 2021 issue of Virginia magazine.

It tells the tale of a professor, Leon Rutledge Whipple (Grad 1908), the founder of the University’s last J-school, who was fired for speaking his support of pacifism after the United States entered WWI.

The moral of that story is that people should be free to speak their minds even when the content of their speech is not widely accepted.

They should not be called “traitor” as in Mr. Whipple’s case.

Bottom line. The work discussed here of the CD editorial board and Ms. Mehta should not get a passing grade if they were first-year term papers.

I recommend they read the original source materials and see if they come again to the conclusion that Mr. Pence’s “rhetoric … directly threatens the presence and lives of our community members.”

“Racist” “ bigot” and “hater” seem to be the new all-purpose terms for people with whom the CD editorial board disagrees.

They should grow up and apologize to Mr. Pence.

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16 responses to “Bad Journalism and Echo-Chamber References Lead to Libel at UVa”

  1. Looking at these examples of failing to report accurate information, we have to wonder just what is UVA teaching? The false CD statements are closer to propaganda than news or even op-eds.

    Thank you for taking the time to pull out the actual statements for us.

    1. James McCarthy Avatar
      James McCarthy

      Professional journalism codes of ethics are not likely taped to the wall at the student newspaper. In any event, it’s not necessarily ethics which guides journalism but professionalism and commercial competition. Fear of libel suits is only one post of guard rails. While a student newspaper may have a faculty adviser, reporting and writing stories are largely self-propelled and motivated.

    2. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      I filled a wastebasket with applications UVA sent me unsolicited back in the early 70s. But my son loves the place (probably because he knew my opinion.)

      Sorry, Sherlock, but you are describing the intellectual honesty of too many in both parties. We are seeing it on display as a bunch of old white guys are making themselves look like idiots trying to find some weak-ass excuse to vote against that judge, despite her obvious qualifications (and yes, she’s a former defense lawyer. The horror…..)

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        It is somewhat amazing that they find disqualifying the very legal skills to which, if truth were really known, most of them would need to avail themselves.

        In retrospect, perhaps that is their intent. Keep her available or take her out of the game. Reminds me of a well heeled Hamptonite who in planning what he knew to be a contentious divorce, did an initial interview with the best facebiters in town.

  2. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    Is this egregious enough to pierce Sullivan v NY Times (which needs to be scrapped – I don’t know for what, but lie on purpose and hide behind you can’t prove malice is no longer viable with a dishonest media)?

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Not even close.

      1. walter smith Avatar
        walter smith

        And that’s too bad. It encourages not just sloppy, but deceptive, journalism…

  3. As they say, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

    my favorite: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me, ” which the left has morphed into: “Words which hurt me can’t be allowed”

  4. SudleySpr Avatar

    Pence who?

  5. I’d assumed that Pence’s positions had been distorted beyond recognition, but I hadn’t actually checked the cited sources themselves. Thanks for doing this legwork. Nothing comes as a surprise.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      And none of it would disqualify the students from jobs at CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, or other partisan megaphones masquerading as news operations. Seriously. My opinion has sunk that low. If nothing else they can become climate alarmism propagandists.

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    No, he’s not. There are no good or evil men, just men.

  7. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    Nice try but the critique does not rise to the level of libel wherein a public figure is involved. Bad reporting does not equal libel no matter how distorted the accuracy. Sarah Palin learned this lesson in her failure to hold the NY Times for libel. Now, if Alex Jones attacked Pence in Jones’ usual diatribes, there might be a case.

    1. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      No, it’s still libel but doesn’t have the required “malice” to meet the standard when applying to a public figure.

      Sarah Palin has nothing to do with this.

  8. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Captain Sherlock. With all due respect, you do not understand libel law or “bad journalism.” The Cavalier Daily was writing opinion. It was hardly libelous. They have every right to do so. Pence is obviously a public figure, which gives the CD a lot of room in which to move. According to New York Times Co vs. Sullivan (1964), there is a much wider field for criticism of public officials. If a public official wants to sue, he or she must prove “actual malice” which is very hard to do. Therefore Pence would have zero case here. Now if you think this is “bad journalism,” well that’s your opinion. I disagree and I have worked in this area for 48 years.

    Virginia, however, has weak protections for journalists and lacks SLAPP laws protesting them from nuisance suits. If journalist gets hit with a ridiculous suit, he or she should be able to counter sue,.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      First Amendment absolutism does not protect from deliberate lies.

      In Sullivan v. New York Times (1964), the Supreme Court ruled:

      “that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) protects the publication of all statements, even false ones, about the conduct of public officials except when statements are made with actual malice (with knowledge that they are false or in reckless disregard to truth or falsity).”

      I contend that the Cavalier Daily, had it not actually linked the “evidence” against Mr. Pence, would not be guilty of libel. But to reverse for purposes of smearing Mr. Pence the clear and unambiguous text of what he actually said in those linked passages is, to me, proof of actual malice. They demonstrated by linking the original passages that they had “knowledge that they are false or in reckless disregard to truth or falsity”.

      You will contend otherwise. That is your right. But “zero case”, I don’t agree.

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