Monday, April 10, 2017

Fake News in Paradise

We are living in crazy times. A lot of Americans have decided that a story is only true if it fits their political disposition. 

So here's a question: Did President Obama wiretap Donald Trump?

The answer, if you believe the FBI and other authoritative sources, is NO.

But,  if you really like Donald Trump, the answer is YES!

In an environment like this, where a story's truth depends on the reader's prejudices, Fake News will inevitably rear its ugly head. And sadly, the hoary visage of Fake News has succeeded in blemishing our own paradisiacal campus here at Rollins College.

The real story is this: A Rollins student, Marshall Polston, was temporarily suspended from the campus for his behavior which was making some people quite uncomfortable. Mr. Polston had, at the same time he was causing this discomfort, managed to have ongoing disagreements with Professor Areej Zufari, the instructor in his Middle Eastern Humanities class.

Mr. Polston has been spending a lot of time talking to right-wing media sources about his disagreements with Professor Zufari in connection with his suspension, but has apparently declined to mention to these sources that he was suspended not for any such disagreements but by virtue of the complaints made by those individuals, both females (one of them Professor Zufari), to whom he was causing distress.

Here is a link to an analysis by Snopes which includes a letter from Rollins to Mr. Polston which identifies those with whom he was instructed to avoid interaction. The student's name, no doubt for legal reasons, is obscured by a blue marker.

But Rollins is not the only place where Mr. Polston's behavior has caused trouble. Here is a March 31 story from the Independent Alligator of Gainesville, describing his suspension from the University of Florida for behavior similar to that which he has exhibited at Rollins.

But sadly, those sources that indulge in conservatively biased fake news have been posting headlines like this:

From The Blaze:

School suspends Christian student who challenged Muslim prof who said Jesus' crucifixion is a hoax

And from the Washington Times:

Rollins College lifts suspension of student who disagreed with Muslim prof over Jesus' crucifixion

In fact, Mr. Polston's suspension (from Rollins and, I'm guessing, from the University of Florida) had nothing to do with Muslims, Christians, crucifixions or hoaxes. It had to do with behavior that made  people uncomfortable both in and outside of class.

Mr. Polston has retained an attorney and, in addition to sending out misleading stories to fake news purveyors, has claimed innocence on the basis of a weirdly unconvincing videotape that he offers as proof that he was not present when he was described as being on campus causing distress. 

But I don't think Mr. Polston needs an attorney. He needs a friend. Or someone who cares enough about him to sit down with him and let him explore whatever impulses he is feeling that are causing distress to those around him. I believe that, though these individuals are upset by his behavior, he is, at bottom, more upset than any of them.

Best wishes to you, Mr. Polston. And please remember the commandment against bearing false witness. (I haven't been to church in about 50 years, so I can't say which number Commandment this is, but I'm quite sure it's one of them.)

           Rollins College - Paradise, I tell you!