Raw Story‘s headline is disturbing: “Florida goes full fascist,” quoting a tweet referenced in the story. “Ron DeSantis sparks furious backlash with ‘authoritarian’ campus political surveys.”
“Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation requiring Florida students, faculty and staff to register their political views in surveys in an effort to promote ‘intellectual diversity’ at colleges and universities,” Travis Gettys reports.
OK, well, “reports” may be stretching it just a teensy weensy bit. In the Tampa Bay Times story Gettys cites, Ana Ceballos tells us the legislation “will require public universities and colleges to survey students, faculty and staff about their beliefs and viewpoints,” not that those students, faculty and staff members will be required to respond to the surveys.
Looks like Mr. Gettys saw what he wanted to see instead of what was actually there. I empathize. It happens to the best of us.
What about Ms. Ceballos? Is her account accurate? Let’s consult the bill itself:
“The State Board of Education shall require each Florida College System institution to conduct an annual assessment of the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity at that institution. The State Board of Education shall select or create an objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid survey to be used by each institution which considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and members of the college community, including students, faculty, and staff, feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.”
Nothing at all in there requiring students, faculty, or staff to “register their political views” (Gettys), or even requiring the schools to ask them about those views (Ceballos).
The surveys cover what’s being taught at the schools (a reasonable area of interest for the State Board of Education, and for the legislators who appropriate funding for those schools), and whether the people on campus feel free to speak their minds (a reasonable area of interest for anyone who supports freedom of speech).
When it comes to the main claims in the two stories, there’s just no “there” there. Ron DeSantis and Florida’s legislature aren’t requiring anyone to”register their political views” with this law. Ceballos’s story is, intentionally or not, fake news, and Gettys’s story is more fake news stacked on atop Ceballos’s.
I get it. Reading legislation is incredibly boring. But if you’re going to report on it, carefully reading it first seems like part of the job.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.