Troubled Waters Documents Show Himle’s Bias (& Fascination with Propaganda)

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A few LSP staffers spent Friday afternoon in a hot, stuffy room in the U of M’s Morrill Hall going through hundreds of e-mails that were generated by the controversy over the film Troubled Waters. Obtained through LSP’s Minnesota Data Practices Act request, the e-mails provide an inside look at how the vice-president of University Relations had no problem putting her biases before the public good when she yanked the film arbitrarily. And the “apology” statement issued by U President Robert Bruininks Friday shows something just as troubling: U officials are apparently still unwilling to take concrete action to hold Himle accountable and make sure this sort of thing never happens again. We’ll provide a more thorough accounting of what was in the e-mails next week. For now, here’s a sampling:

• A Sept. 6 e-mail from Himle to Allen Levine, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, shows that even before the film was officially yanked, she was developing a strategy for justifying the censorship: Himle to Levine 9-6-10.

• A Sept. 25 e-mail written by Barb Coffin, the film’s executive producer and the head of the Bell Museum’s film unit, makes it clear Himle was the one who pulled the film from Twin Cities Public Television, despite early claims that it was Bell Museum officials who pulled the plug: Coffin email 9-25-10 Himle cancels showing.

• In a Sept. 28  e-mail from Himle, the vice-president comes up with a one-word description of the film: “propaganda.” She also drops the names Michael Moore and Rules for Radicals. Keep in mind that this film was directed by Emmy and Peabody award winning director Larkin McPhee, who has produced films known for their balanced presentation. This is where the correspondence takes a strange turn and Himle’s bias starts to reveal itself: Himle 9-28-10 Propoganda.

• On Sept. 28, a Himle e-mail explains how she “convinced” Bruininks that the film was a problem by utilizing a technique that “peeled away the layers.” Note how a substantial portion of the e-mail was removed before it was released by the University:Himle Email 9-28-10.

• In a Sept. 29 e-mail titled, “After a Good Rest, My Last Message on This,” Himle seems to appoint herself as the final authority on the difference between “propaganda” and what is fit for public viewing. She also provides a lesson in Propaganda 101, writing: “Just as Justice Potter Stewart has opined on obscenity, I’ll know it the next time I see it.”  This attitude is the essence of censorship, and shows that the U’s policy on academic freedom is in serious trouble. Again, note how a portion of the e-mail was blanked out before it was released: Himle email 9-29-10 After A Good Rest.

3 Responses to “Troubled Waters Documents Show Himle’s Bias (& Fascination with Propaganda)”

  1. Nicole T

    What a bizarre context of the quote “I know it when I see it.” She even spelled Justice Stewart’s name wrong! Another famous quote from Justice Potter Stewart is “Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.”

  2. Susan M

    It’s good to know that if I ever need to respond to a troublesome Data Practices Act request, I can apparently just delete the parts of my correspondence that I *really* don’t want people to see. … I’m dying to know what was in the excised passages, given how damning (and borderline insane) the rest of it is.

  3. Shaun M

    Why is it that they can delete certain parts of the e-mails? I guess I need a tutorial in the Data Practices Act . . .


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