There’s a fine line between media bias and an all out smear campaign. That line was stormed by the Associated Press in one of their worst displays of cruel and malicious personal attacks. The victim of their warped campaign: One John Freshwater, two time teacher of the year, the last time being in 2007.
John Freshwater is a teacher who is well liked and admired by his students. How often is it that we even hear of such a thing in most schools today? But that didn’t stop the Associated Press from running one of the most false and incendiary portrayals of an individual ever written.
We all know about media bias and the extent of it. What most readers don’t expect of the media is all out character assassination. But the Associated Press lowered the bar yet again, and defamation is now considered to be on equal footing with news reporting.
It is no secret that the average journalist is far to the left of even some of our most liberal politicians. As true radicals, they and their editors engage in tactics that all honest people would consider shameful. And in the eyes of these radicals John Freshwater had committed the ultimate “sin.” He told his class that there are two theories to the coming about of the universe, and encouraged them to study up on both and to think for themselves.
The AP didn’t go into the merits of either side of the creation vs. evolution debate. That would have forced them to highlight that creationists do have a scientific case, a stronger one than most people know. The AP didn’t even write one of their usual one sided pieces, with their standard uncalled for insertion of opinion into news articles. As Freshwater had committed the ultimate sin, he was set up for the ultimate in treatment; false insinuations and malicious character attacks. But in his case, the extent the AP went to was heinous beyond belief.
While the title of the Columbus Dispatch, the closest daily to Freshwater’s school, simply read “Teacher Disses Evolution” (itself a stretch), the AP saw more fit to run the insidious headline, “Report: Ohio teacher burned cross on kids' arms”.
What really happened is that a few parents, a very small minority, complained that Freshwater had exposed their children to creationism. And while no students complained, as they never saw a reason to oppose being presented all sides of an issue, the few parental complaints resulted in an investigation, one in which Freshwater’s merits as a teacher were generally upheld.
However, the report did (as all reports do), list the individual complaints specifically. And one parent, out of an entire class of students, had complained that her child and others had been “branded with cross by Freshwater.”
What really happened is that Freshwater demonstrated to a number of students how a high frequency generator worked. What he did was normal for a science class, and the fact that no students and no other parents complained, although Freshwater had demonstrated the device on several students, should make that point clear.
The only complainant was a couple who strongly disagreed with Freshwater’s encouragement of free thought. There also seems to have been a monetary factor, as they decided to sue the school district and Freshwater personally.
The litigating couple knows full well that all students who participated in the generator demonstration did so willingly. They also know that no other parents sought to complain.
If they had been around when I was in 7th grade and one of my science teachers had us test our blood to see if we were As, Bs, or Os, we would have been forced to endure investigations into whether our teacher was a vampire, provided that she had also mentioned something to the class that didn’t meet with this couple’s approval.
But while their actions seem solely designed to smear a respectable teacher whose views they disagree with (and if they can punish him a little bit more with a lawsuit, and maybe even come out ahead if the school district settles, then so be it), they are, at the end of the day, the lone acts of one misguided couple. One would expect better of the Associated Press.
The report does document this lone couple’s complaint. All complaints ever launched against Freshwater are documented, as that was the purpose of the report in the first place. But to remove all context from the story is incendiary, as is titling it “teacher burned cross on kids' arms” instead of the more appropriate “Lone Couple Accuses Two Time Teacher Of The Year of Burning Cross Into Students Arms,” (assuming the AP would again start capitalizing headlines).
Even the latter title should be followed with the byline, “Launch Lawsuit That No Other Parents Join In,” as is the norm when reporting on any wild accusations against an individual while the accusers remain nameless. This is especially true when no one else in the class had a problem and even the alleging couple waited for months to act, which would hardly have been the case if a teacher were actually “branding students with crosses.”
A mother who tenderly gives birth to her child can technically, if not accurately, be described as “forcibly shoving her child out, on its birthday!” Indeed, for this reason Freshwater should be glad he’s not a woman, as the AP would have most likely added this description to his list of other fictional atrocities, because as shameful as all of the above is, the AP didn’t stop there.
The journalist covering the story went after Freshwater with added zeal. It wasn’t enough to tarnish him with an inflammatory headline. No mercy would be given to those who encourage free thought in the classroom, in a supposed institution of learning.
The AP reporter, or reporters, went about interviewing Freshwater’s colleagues and supervisors. And the more they did, the greater their disappointment. Everyone seemed to believe that he was an excellent teacher.
But since when should a few small facts get in the way of the agenda driven AP? Instead of reporting these positive endorsements, they pressed their subjects harder. After all, if you press long enough, you can twist the words of almost anyone, or otherwise get them to give the type of quote you want. And this is what the AP did.
When one colleague said that Freshwater is one of the best teachers they know, the AP reporter asked “What about the cross burning?” Of course, the teacher, caught off guard and without experience dealing with goons, replied “aside from the cross burning.” And so the AP got their quote “with the exception of the cross burning…… he’s teaching the values of the parents… in the school district,” painting all of his supporters as loons, when the truth is the exact opposite, that sanity decries the gross injustice done to him.
But don’t worry. The AP didn’t stop there. They are the AP after all, and they must live up to their agenda. And so they went about digging for dirt among past supervisors.
Once again, the responses they received were anything but what they wished for. The man was genuinely liked. So they asked questions like “has there ever been a complaint against Freshwater before?” (One would be hard pressed to find a public school teacher that hasn’t been the subject of parental complaints, even a twice awarded teacher of the year like Jeff Freshwater, especially given the “my child can do no wrong” attitude of some parents today.) To this, they received the answer they wanted.
The AP reporter pressed on, asking how long and frequent the complaints had been. When given the answer that they were few and far between, the AP reporter would ask when the first one happened. Had the first complaint been in the early years, when Freshwater was first hired? Had there been any complaints since? With these questions, the response to which would be “yes” if asked about 90% of long term teachers, the reporter could write that a former supervisor had “dealt with complaints” about the teacher over an extended period of time. That’s the AP’s way of saying 3 complaints in 11 years when the subject of these complaints is not to their liking.
The blatant character assassination engaged in by the Associated Press should be patently obvious to all readers. Had the teacher indeed “branded students with crosses” it should be as clear as day that no one would have waited for such behavior to turn up in an independent report, nor would this have been ignored by all students and by all parents except for one. But the AP couldn’t just run a story on a teacher in trouble for presenting creationism and for keeping a Bible in class. Not when they could smear him personally, portraying a twice awarded Teacher of the Year as one would portray an axe murderer.
The Associated Press could have simply reported that Freshwater taught that creationism has legitimacy. They could have also mentioned that he kept a Bible in class (which he did not even read from aloud or otherwise share with students). Many would have criticized him for that alone, without maliciously attacking his character. I would have personally sided with him, as creationists generally win scientific debates against evolutionists and the intent of the Founding Fathers was never to ban a teacher from keeping a Bible in a classroom, as is clear to any objective reader of US or constitutional history. However, the story would have been accurate, not an act of character slaughter.
Is this what we can expect from militant leftist journalists and editors? Well, from my own experience, the most virulent, radical and dangerous groups that I’ve come across have been militant atheists. After my recent column on the existence of the Divine, I experienced google stalking, harassing phone calls and was targeted with computer viruses and the like. When they could not successfully attack the substance of the column, or get Canada Free Press to stop running it after launching one of their typical campaigns to stifle free speech, they took to falsely attacking my character. In the end it was all small potatoes and nonsense, but it showed me just how militant some atheists can be. The results for Freshwater have been far worse.
John Freshwater is an exceptional teacher. Just last year he was recognized as the very best in his profession for the second time. This teacher will probably lose his job, not because of the outlandish, shameful and disgraceful coverage of the AP, but because of creationism, which schools have reflexively dismissed without even looking into (in part because of the tactics of militant atheists to stifle free speech and to smear any creationist), and because he kept a personal Bible in class.
I don’t know John Freshwater. But I can’t help but be touched by his story, his exceptional teaching record and the obviously baseless smears launched against him.
This is disgraceful. But the fact is that I doubt that a teacher on a fixed salary, who now faces losing his job and is the subject of a frivolous lawsuit launched by a couple that took issue with his teaching and therefore sought to smear and malign him in the most ridiculous of ways, is sitting very comfortably. I would therefore urge readers to help this man out with a donation to his legal defense fund. A collection is being raised by the Community Council for Free Expression at http://agoodchoice.blogspot.com/2008/05/freshwater-legal-defense-fund.html. I will be sending a check with a copy of the this column and I would urge you to send your own donations to help this man during his trying times. I would also urge readers to write the AP and to demand a retraction and full apology for their baseless and shameful distortions of a twice awarded teacher of the year.