November 29, 2019 (updated September 24, 2020)
Lessons from the Controversy
1. Tell reporters you will answer their questions on email, and talk to them on the phone, but on the phone (or live) it will be for background only, no quotes.
2. Have a prepared statement for reporters. Often this is enough. A FAQs page might be a good idea too, but I haven’t done that yet.
3. I decided *against* asking the University for protection against threats of violence. I’ve had a couple, but it wouldn’t really be honest to say I feel I need protection, and it isn’t fair to overdramatize, even if that’s what the other side does.
4. Set up a computer folder immediately, with a file called 00notes.doc for general stuff and another called twitter-me.doc for my own controversial tweets and another called twitter-them.doc for interesting other tweets (screenshots). Have a subfolder MEDIA and another one DOCUMENTS.
5. Set up a new mailbox especially for mail connected with the kerfuffle.
6. Set up a webpage. This should have your statement at the top, a brief explanation of the kerfuffle, contact info for reporters, links to documents, and links to media. See http://www.rasmusen.org/special/2019kerfuffle/ or http://www.rasmusen.org/citigroup/.
7. Create a file like this one, lessons.doc, for lessons you’ve learned or advice you might give, including mistakes you’ve made. I am very busy, but it is important to learn from experience and I will forget useful little things later.
8. One example of a mistake is that I did not make it a top priority to reply to the Provost’s false attribution to me of three or so political opinions in her memo. I let the evening go by, and only started addressing it the next morning. Things move much faster even than in litigation. You don't measure deadlines in days but in hours.
9. Be prepared to make your own videos, professional TV quality, with questions the stations would like to hear about.
10. Figure out how to get help. What can other people do for you? (e.g. let you know of articles and blogposts, draft replies to emails, write to politicians) Think: "If someone asks me how they can help, what will I tell them do, specifically?"
11. Have telephone voice recording software installed, if you are in a state where recording without notice is legal. In any case, tell reporters you are recording. Do that even if it is off the record, so you can prove they knew it was off the record, and in case they claim you said something you didn't. This is more of a danger with low-level reporters (e.g. college students) probably, but I don't know. Reporter quality varies tremendously.
12. Keep a list of encouraging emails, comments, tweets, and so forth. Look at it every once in a while, and show it to the public too (without identifying information that might compromise your supporters) to show how numerous and reasonable your supporters are.
13. Some of your friends and colleagues will wonder if you're crazy and will think you very foolish to poke your head up and expose yourself as a target. Write up an explanation for them, to send, or, better for ordinary non-reading people, so you will know what to say to them. A video or audio version should also be available, since many people effectively illiterate-- if it's written, they'll skip it. I didn't do that in advance, or yet, because I think that is something that can wait. But it's something that can be done in advance if you think this will happen to you someday, as I've been thinking for a long time (wokefolk will find one thing or another that you say or write, and you can't know in advance what will trigger them).
14. Let people help you. It's like when there's a death in the family: everybody wants to be helpful, but they don't know what to do. Don't worry about wasting their time. They will feel better if they can help out in any way whatsoever. Don't be too proud to ask for help, and don't think you are imposing on them. This is hard for me personally.
15. Look for people who will be built up by helping you. Pick someone you think needs building up, and ask them to do something, and keep them in the loop especially. This is not for help with the situation; this is an example of making use of the situation to do something else that's good.
16. Keep a webpage with pro-you articles, for your encouragement and your supporters'.
17. Realize that it's okay if you look foolish. Don't be proud. Your job is not to look good in the usual, worldly way. You don't have to look like a movie star or talk with the glibness of a news reporter. Your objective is to tell people what the truth is, with a personal appearance that will make them believe you. It's okay if I, for example, look like an idiot savant, or an impractical professor, or high-functioning autistic, or Midwestern hick with a veneer of education. Maybe I am one or all of those things. They are all okay for hindering people from demonizing me and for making people believe I am sincere and good-hearted.
18. Get children involved. They can be very helpful in looking for typos, checking your appearance, and fixing up webpages, and it will be good for them.
19. Take lots of naps, watch lots of TV, get lots of exercise. I violated this by not joggin after the first three days, but later I went back to it.
20. Do what I've done in teaching: have an 8x11 page with what you need to always remember in advance of speaking to an audience: 1. Speak slowly, and 2. Pray. My daughter suggested a third one for me: 3. Smile. She says my smile is good; if yours isn't don't do it.
21. Think about replying to rude comments about your opponents. A friend noted that after I published an essay in the Unz Review calling for Provost Lauren Robel to be fired, the very first reader comment was a derogatory remark about her personal appearance, and that I ought to reply to that comment. So I did, having my wife and daughter select comments that needed admonishment. This also teaches manners to the Internet crowd, many of whom have never heard of them.
22. In advance, if you know that you might be a target, prepare a short, 100-400 word statement of “What it means for me to be a Christian” (or Moslem, or Conservative, or Black Woman). Link to this prominently from your controversy webpage.
23. I am not satisfied with a name for this sort of situation. “Situation”, “Controversy”, “Crisis”, and “Affair” are all possibilities. “Kerfuffle” was created to apply precisely to this kind of situation, but it is an ugly and awkward word.
24. From the start, have someone whose task it is to monitor media articles, blog posts, comment sections, and bulletin boards. This person should note errors and lies and comment on them and email authors and publications. He should also plaster the address of the controversy website everywhere, once at least in every comment section, so people know where to get reliable information. Unless this is done, errors will propagate and grow, as everybody starts quoting the bad source and then they, perhaps more reliable, get quoted, and it gets into comment sections, and so forth. Rumor has a thousand tongues, but if you throw some hot pepper on the first one, perhaps he'd be chastened.
25. I did not have the chance to do this, but if you are offered an NDA (a non-disparagement agreement), do not sign it without heavy thought. A common pattern is for a university to mistreat a professor unlawfully, knowing they'd lose in court but intending to settle out of court when he sues. A good example is when they fire a tenured professor for political speech. I think there is a standard handbook for university administrators somewhere that tells them to do this if they're willing to pay him, say, $200,000, so it becomes a question of whether the university president wants to pay that much to vent his anger. Part of the playbook is to say that the agreement should include an NDA so that the victim will not report the amount to the press or continue to reveal bad things the university has done or does in the future. This NDA is extremely valuable, but victims and their attorneys often do not realize that and are terrible bargainers, giving away the store. They should realize that if they would win $400,000 in court with 90% probability, they shouldn't settle for less than $360,000 unless they are extremely risk averse. They should realize that even $360,000 is low, because the university probably would have to spend a lot more on legal fees than they would, since it would hire better lawyers (which is why the universities bargain better and get victims to settle cheap). Most important, the victim should realize that the NDA is probably worth just as much as the main settlement amount to the university. If you settle for $360,000, and the university says, as if it were an afterthought, "Oh, and how about we both sign an NDA", your response should not be "Sure," but "OK-- how about an extra $400,000 if I agree to sign one?". Think of a car salesman who gets you to agree to pay $24,999 for a car and then casually suggests that you finance it at a 20% interest rate as part of the deal to lock in your great price.