LA Weekly Publisher/CEO Brian Calle, who fired virtually the entire staff of the paper in November 2017 after he took over, will direct the Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity at Chapman University this fall, according to this story in today’s Panther, the school’s newspaper.
“I’m really excited about the center because there’s a national discussion around expression, and Chapman is a natural fit to be a leader in that space,” this Aug. 26 Panther news article quotes Calle as saying. “If we can host discussions and debates on campus in a respectful and balanced way, we’ll do a service and a model for the rest of the country.”
Also today, the Chapman Panther published an editorial criticizing the decision to hire Calle—who also teaches at Chapman—to direct the center. “We think a center on campus that promotes the integrity of the media is not only a great addition to Chapman, but [also] something that should’ve materialized long ago,” states the Panther editorial. “But when the new director of the Center has been called out by the president of the Society of Professional Journalists and his actions categorized as ‘an absolute outrage,’ has been called the ‘least respected journalist in Southern California’ by a former employee of LA Weekly, and allegedly slashed an entire editorial staff without notice, it is cause for concern.”
The center hosts debates and conferences and publishes papers in the hopes of fostering a climate where “diverse ideas” can be discussed freely. While this sounds fine at first glance, it seems to stem from the notion (popularized in the past few years by The New York Times Editorial Page) that the greatest threats to American democracy come not from, say, fascists in the White House or law enforcement, but from voices of intolerance on college campuses and “biased” media.
“Free speech in America is at a crossroads, and the battleground for its future is on college campuses and within media outlets,” states this webpage for the center. “The Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity at Chapman University will be dedicated to the defense of free expression in all its forms. Our goal is to advance and promote the ideals of free speech and balanced media while at the same time monitor and challenge media bias and assaults on free speech.”
In her news story, Panther editor in chief Louisa Marshall quotes Calle as saying that his placement on our 2016 Scariest People list (back when he was merely the Orange County Register‘s editorial director) was “quite funny” and a “badge of honor.” While this is sweet of Calle, we nonetheless feel compelled to revisit the events—which occurred just three years ago—that led to our including Calle on our annual Scariest list:
The Orange County Register editorial board boss oversaw three embarrassing gaffes this year that drew national attention. In January, he apologized after an editorial argued pro-sports cheerleaders shouldn’t seek state classification as employees (as opposed to independent contractors) because the job has “fringe benefits . . . such as working closely with” millionaire players. Then came a piece in March blasting Assemblymember Don Wagner for running against State Senator John Moorlach. Only problem? Wagner wasn’t running. The Reg swung and missed again in October, when it endorsed Ling-Ling Chang against Sukhee Kang for a state Assembly seat. But Kang wasn’t her opponent.
Does any of this seem congruent with the title of executive director of the Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity? Is there truly no one other than Calle in all of Southern California who could run such a center? The answer to both questions is a resounding “of course not,” but in the Age of Stupid we now inhabit, even an institution with a lofty word such as integrity in its title can’t actually be expected to hold itself to its own ideas.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.