John Ashcroft was in Missouri last night...and his appearance demonstrated his apparent contempt for the media. Read on...
Here's the local paper's editorial followed by the news story.
The News-Leader, September 13, 2007
MSU errs in limiting media role
Decision doesn't fit with public affairs mission.
The following transcript of yesterday's speech by former Attorney General John Ashcroft at Missouri State University is brought to you by the father of the Patriot Act:
What? It's blank? There's nothing there?
That's what the public gets — nothing — when a public university allows an important speaker to dictate how the media will — or will not — cover his speech.
That Ashcroft, who now makes a living giving such speeches, wants to control the dissemination of his words, is not surprising, nor is it particularly offensive. That's par for the course in the public speaking circuit. Speakers make a living off of their words, and how they're delivered, and when they get paid by corporations or others to rally the troops at conventions, they want to have complete control of the message.
But public universities, particularly those with a public affairs mission, should have a different standard, particularly when the speaker played such a key role in our nation's recent history.
So when MSU signed a contract with Ashcroft that allowed him to disallow television cameras or even recording devices — a basic tool in any reporter's tool kit these days — the university shirked its role as a key player in the arena of public discourse.
As associate professor Andrew Cline lamented:
"We have a public affairs mission that we are quite proud of and yet we do this?"
Ironically, Ashcroft agreed to no such requirements earlier this year when he spoke at Evangel University and there are apparently no such requirements in place for his speech today at Drury University.
It's great that MSU is bringing in a speaker of Ashcroft's caliber, but in the future, MSU should make it clear that speakers do not have the ability to dictate how or if the media will cover their appearances.
Ashcroft focuses on Patriot Act
Former attorney general uses speech at MSU to defend the act he helped author.
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft's message of balancing protection and privacy hit a high note for Tony Nuber of Springfield last night.
Nuber, 21, and the rest of his military science class attended Ashcroft's speech on "Today and the Future of Homeland Security" at Missouri State University.
Ashcroft spoke at Juanita K. Hammons Hall where there were more empty seats than those filled by students and visitors on the first night of the seventh annual Accounting Education Conference.
While most of the audience appeared to be supporters — based on the standing ovations — at least one person was not. A bright yellow flier that challenged Ashcroft and the Patriot Act was passed around. Resources on the flier included the ACLU and MoveOn.org.
Ashcroft's appearance was sponsored by the Accounting Club, College Republicans and the Young Americans for Freedom.
Ashcroft filled his speech with jokes and gentle jabs, some at himself, but the point of the talk was a defense of the Patriot Act, which he helped author after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
"We learned six years ago (Tuesday) that our system was not equipped to handle" the threat of terrorism, he said.
He described the country's intelligence system before Sept. 11 as set up to respond to attack. "Response itself was inadequate," he said. "We've got to be in the business of prevention."
He admitted that the challenges to freedoms in the Patriot Act have created tensions in the culture, but insisted that surveillance and information collection actually safeguard freedom rather than erode it.
Nuber, who will be activated in the Army next spring, agrees. "In my field, the new focus is on information flow."
Ryan Hogan's Army-green T-shirt sported a simple message: "Got freedom?" Also a military science student, Hogan, 21, of Ozark admitted that not all people see freedom in the same way.
"But I am sworn to uphold the Constitution," said Hogan, who will also be activated in the Army in the spring.
Not everyone got the answers they were hoping to hear from Ashcroft.
Keya Karmakar, a graduate student in accounting, hoped to hear about how security efforts affect legal immigration to the United States.
Karmakar and her husband, Kartik Ghosh, a professor in the physics department at MSU, had to wait five years to get their green cards, despite having met all the legal requirements. The lack of the needed papers meant her husband was unable to travel to professional conferences, she was unable to get a job outside of the campus and they could not travel to visit family in India and Bangladesh to introduce their 3-year-old son.
"As an international student, I hope he will talk about legal immigration," she said before the speech.
Most of the people who made their way to the microphones after the speech didn't get their questions answered either, and neither did the woman who asked Ashcroft why it has been so difficult to find and catch Osama bin Laden.
"I am confounded by it," he admitted. "I thought we would have captured him."