This column appeared in the July 19, 2016 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal.
By: Scott Jennings
Here lies Doug Cobb’s reputation. He had the audacity to express an opinion unpopular with the enlightened, liberal intelligentsia.
I don’t know Doug Cobb, where he lives or even what he does for a living these days. All I know is that Governor Matt Bevin appointed the founding president and CEO of Greater Louisville, Inc. to the University of Louisville Board of Trustees, a post Cobb later declined after a feeding frenzy among reporters who found it outrageous that Cobb had tweeted opinions contrary to their own.
I don’t necessarily agree with some of Cobb’s tweets, which were breathlessly reported by the bloodthirsty thought police who turned his opinions on Christianity, global warming and sports into a shooting gallery at their ridiculous carnival. But Cobb has a right to express an opinion, and we should be mortified that our town’s unelected information gatekeepers are personally deciding not only who is fit to serve but what opinions disqualify someone from serving.
The blow-by-blow reporting on Cobb’s tweets, recited like some criminal’s rap sheet, reminded me of an old headline in The Onion, a satire newspaper—“Report: Every Potential 2040 President Already Unelectable Due To Facebook.”
Never mind the presidency. Social media has rendered ineligible a guy willing to provide his considerable expertise to an unelected, unpaid board at a local university. I looked through the Kentucky Revised Statutes to determine if tweeting about global warming or basketball disqualifies someone from serving, but found none. I did find a law about requiring proportional ratio of Republicans and Democrats on university boards, but the thought police must’ve missed that one when former Governor Steve Beshear, a likeminded liberal, brazenly broke it.
Cobb undoubtedly holds opinions that aren’t popular among the thought troopers who spend their time making fun of the Ark Encounter or of older folks, as they did when pejoratively labeling University of Louisville President James Ramsey “granddaddy” on their own Twitter accounts. And I am sure there are some who believe that people shouldn’t be appointed to public boards who hold unpopular or unproven views.
But our system entrusts our elected representative– Governor Bevin–to appoint most anyone he wants as long as they meet basic statutory requirements. Don’t like an appointment? Go vote for someone else in 2019; that’s how our system works.
Furthermore, Cobb’s views, while certainly in conflict with the science community and Rick Pitino fan club, are not necessarily out of step with many (most?) Kentuckians. One offensive tweet cited by the thought police concerned Cobb’s opinion that a U of L sports team had “choked” in the NCAA tournament, leaving readers to believe an opinion about sports made him unfit to serve. Who among us has not used the word “choke” to describe a favorite sports team after a tough loss? There won’t be a qualified person left among us!
The question isn’t whether Cobb is right or wrong about evolution, global warming, the tenets of Christianity, or sports teams choking, but whether simply expressing his opinion should have subjected him to public annihilation. The feeding frenzy over Cobb’s Twitter account exposed the core operating principle of the thought police: they will make your life miserable until you conform or retreat.
Oh, thank you Lord for sending the Enlightened Few to keep the rest of us in line. We stand in awe of their mystical ability to retweet each other. We deserve our public floggings until our opinions improve.
The gatekeepers will say they are doing their duty. I have no problem with making Cobb’s views known; after all, he made them public himself. But the manner in which it was done – malicious, with intent to kill Cobb’s reputation and appointment – chilled many folks to the bone.
What’s the result of all this beyond Cobb’s banishment? The dissuasion of conservatives previously interested in public service who will now recede, fearful of having their own tweets pored over more carefully than Hillary Clinton’s emails at FBI headquarters. The bullies have won this round.
I have a friend who says “Twitter is the Devil.” He says mindlessly retweeting something today can come back to haunt you in five minutes or five years. But who is really the Devil? Twitter itself, or the trolls who trot out old, random thoughts to castigate conservatives who dare set foot in the public square?
Cobb was appointed to the board of a public university, formerly paragons of the First Amendment and public debate. These days, though, anyone who strays from the doctrine of the liberal thought police need not apply (read The Atlantic’s “The Chilling Effect of Fear at America’s Colleges.”).
We should all fear a world in which free thought is muted by a cynical, angry mob that delights in destroying reputations, especially those of conservative Christians who dare think of volunteering for public service. This Cobb episode embodies everything regular people hate about our media culture, and the liberals who happily mock people in the name of ensuring that non-conforming opinions are run out of their enlightened town.
Scott Jennings previously served as an advisor to President George W. Bush and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations, which has previously been a vendor to the University of Louisville Foundation. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY. The online version of this article contains several hyperlinked citations.