Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Touchy

An independent journalist by the name of Ben Reeves posted a very interesting story today about his job writing articles for IBTimes, the proud new owners of Newsweek, and (I would guess) the primary revenue engine behind Olivet University’s recent expansions.

Compared to the recent Mother Jones piece, Ben’s story didn’t break much new ground, but it was interesting to read about his experiences. It’s been clear for a while that David Jang and Olivet and IBTimes were closely intertwined, and the documents Ben included in his story were further evidence of that. Similarly, the chats and emails he reproduces had some worthwhile details, including a – supposed – recent massive spike in revenues for Olivet University.

I was a bit mystified by this comment from his article:

Nevertheless, intimate connections between the founders of a company and a university run by an evangelical religious group aren’t a problem in and of themselves, however distasteful this may seem.

I’m glad he acknowledged that having well-educated Evangelical Christians running a business wasn’t necessarily a problem, but it was surprising to me that he assumed his readers would find the whole idea repugnant. If that really is how most folks view religiously committed folks these days – well, in the end, First Amendment protections are only as good as the society that values them.

But aside from that, the most interesting part of the article, I thought, was how Olivet responded when they found out that Reeves was working on the story. Reeves said that he initially sent them this list of questions:

1) Can you provide us with copies of your most recent student handbook and Ministry Practice Handbook?
2) Please describe the relationship between Olivet University and IBT since the company’s foundation in 2006.
3) What was Johnathan Davis’ role at the school?
4) How is Etienne Uzac connected to the school? What is his current role, and has he ever served as an officer of the university?
5) Your course catalogue states that one purpose of the journalism program is to teach students how to “apply Gospel values” to the news. What are Gospel values and how should they be incorporated into the news?
6) How do you define “ministry” with respect to internships?
7) What is the Ministry Practice Program and how does it work?
8) How long must students intern through the Ministry Practice Program?
9) What companies are students in the Ministry Practice Program authorized to intern at?
10) Were Olivet University students interning at IBT through the ministry practice program paid? What were their duties at the company?
11) What are the demographics of Olivet University’s student body? How many students are there, and where do they come from?

Olivet’s response was telling. Rather than trying to answer the questions, they immediately sent for their attorneys. Ben received this message a few days later:

Dear Mr. Reeves:

This firm serves as litigation counsel to Olivet University (“Olivet”). It has come to our attention that you intend to publish a news article about a supposed connection between Olivet University and International Business Times (“IBT”). It has further come to our attention that your news article will include false and defamatory statements about Olivet and false and defamatory statements about the supposed connection between Olivet and IBT, including insinuations that Olivet has used IBT for improper purposes and/or to further its own agenda. Any such false statements would be unlawful and would cause immediate and irreparable harm to Olivet.

Wow. That’s touchy. Olivet’s assumption is that any article published about them “will include false and defamatory statements”. If you didn’t know better, you’d almost think they had something to hide, and were desperately trying to use their lawyers to make sure the information didn’t get out.

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