Phi Beta Cons

Outrage Fatigue

I was reading through FIRE’s latest release about San Francisco State’s decision to investigate the university’s College Republicans after the students stepped on makeshift Hamas and Hezbollah flags, and I found myself (once again) amazed at the university culture’s contemptuous disregard for the most basic principles of free speech and expression. I got FIRE’s release on my blackberry while I was Fort Knox last week, and I read aloud some of the case documents to the soldiers I was helping. When I got to the portion where a university spokesperson said, “I don’t believe the complaint is about the desecration of the flag. I believe that the complaint is the desecration of Allah,” a sergeant who had just returned from a year of convoy security in Iraq almost left the room in disgust.
It is shocking that a public university would investigate students for stomping on the flags of known terrorist organizations — regardless of the words written on those flags — and the sergeant’s reaction to the news was completely appropriate and justified.  Yet there seems to be precious little response to this case. There are very few articles, no TV coverage (that I know of), and seemingly little outrage — even in the conservative community. FIRE is outstanding at spreading the word about campus abuses, but I wonder . . . are even conservatives beginning to suffer from campus outrage fatigue? Is news of campus abuse now so commonplace that it is almost accepted as a fact of life?  
Public pressure can be a tremendous tool, but the media and the public are also fickle. Consider for a moment the contrast between the tidal wave of media coverage over Penn’s famous “water buffalo” incident where FIRE co-founder Alan Charles Kors put the problem of speech codes on the national map, with the coverage given to any number of much worse cases exposed in recent months. Unless we can begin to achieve systemic change (which would prevent the abuses from occurring in the first instance), we run the risk of the public viewing the outrageous as commonplace and viewing consistent complaints of abuse not a symptomatic of a larger national problem but as whining from just another victim group.