It’s happened again. A group of college students was holding a rally on the quad, which they did not want interrupted, or even observed, by the media. They surrounded themselves with people who could only be described as “muscle”, who ordered anyone that appeared to be media to leave, even threatening them with citizen’s arrest and a night in the jail if they reporter continued asking questions or taking photographs. Even an outsider who wasn’t a reporter of any sort, but simply hanging out at one of the picnic tables eating his lunch was told in no uncertain terms to leave. This is simply unacceptable, and the fact that it’s becoming commonplace, hardly even noteworthy anymore, is a sign, if not of the apocalypse, or the downfall of the republic, at least of the rot that’s infecting our institutions of what is with unintentional irony called higher learning.
OK, some of you might have noticed a shortage of specifics in the above account. There’s a reason for that, and (this time, anyway) it’s not because I made the whole thing up. It’s a very accurate description, mutatis mutandis (which is Latin for “I took some liberties” 1 ) of … a Koch Brothers meeting of conservative donors and activists described in this Politico article from 2011. The Kochs rented space at a resort hotel, and surrounded the spaces they were using with a large team of security. The head of hotel security ordered the Politico reporter out of the cafe where he was waiting to order lunch, and handed him over to Koch security, who made exactly the same threats mentioned above if he continued to act like a reporter. Another hotel guest, who was not a reporter, was informed that his lunch reservation had been cancelled and was advised to check out and leave immediately. 2
Now, you might say that the Kochs had every right to exercise that level of control over space they’d paid for. And you’d be correct. The First Amendment does not trump the right to control access to a private space. But it’s worth reflecting that the Koch brothers and the students at Mizzou have pretty much the same approach to free speech; the salient difference is that only one of them had enough money to make it look respectable.