Recorded lectures take on new risk as blogger ‘goes after teachers’

Breitbart has been accused of splicing web video before the University of Missouri incident.

Controversial blogger Andrew Breitbart might make college professors squeamish about recording their lectures.

Web video purporting to show a University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) lecturer advocating violence as a labor union tactic was deemed “highly distorted” by campus officials who reviewed the recording, which was posted last month by Breitbart, a conservative blogger with a track record of misleading, highly publicized videos.

Edited video of UMKC labor studies lecturers Don Giljum and Judy Ancel were posted on Breitbart’s website, Big Government, in late April, and the site’s writers followed up with several more posts about the educators’ supposed lessons of how violence can be a useful strategy for union organizers.

Ancel and Giljum taught the Introduction to Labor Studies class together, using a live video feed.

In a May 9 announcement, UMKC Chancellor Tom George said a review revealed the lecture videos “were definitely taken out of context, with their meaning highly distorted through splicing and editing from different times within a class period and across multiple class periods.”

George said Giljum had not been fired from the university in the wake of Breitbart’s videos, and that he would be allowed to finish the spring semester.

“We sincerely regret the distress to him and others that has been caused by the unauthorized copying, editing, and distribution of the course videos,” George said in his statement.

George’s statement contradicts an April 28 Big Government report that Giljum resigned from UMKC and would not be rehired by the university.

George said UMKC also would “explore ways to improve security in the use of electronic media for instruction, research, and other activities,” after the lecture video was used by Breitbart’s website.

With Breitbart—who started his blogging career at the political gossip site DrudgeReport—announcing in April that he would “go after the teachers” as his next mission for the Big Government website, more colleges and universities soon might be reviewing dozens or hundreds of hours of recorded lectures.

In the meantime, experts said, professors and instructors should be wary of the viral nature of online videos.

“For better and sometimes for worse, in the social media age professors have to assume that whatever they say in class may be broadcast to the world. You can’t get that genie back in the bottle,” said David Halperin, senior vice president of the left-leaning group Campus Progress. “But people who selectively edit audio or video to distort the meaning of comments need to be held accountable for the disservice they do to public debate and for the careers they damage.”

Halperin said campus officials should exercise restraint before taking action against a lecturer who is recorded saying something inflammatory in the classroom.

“Schools should act promptly to find the relevant facts and listen carefully to the accused professor’s side of the story before taking any action,” he said.

Breitbart has made headlines in recent years for his use of heavily edited videos. A U.S. Agriculture Department employee was fired last year after Breitbart posted web video showing the woman, Shirley Sherrod, making what appeared to be racist comments.

The full video, however, showed that Sherrod was relaying a story of racial healing during her time with the Agricultural Department.

“Schools and other institutions understandably have a strong interest in taking prompt action to address outstanding problems, but incidents like the Shirley Sherrod case show the dangers of jumping the gun, especially when there are unscrupulous actors seeking to distort the truth,” Halperin said.

Breitbart also pushed spliced video of employees from the community group ACORN telling an undercover actor posing as a pimp how to launder earnings from prostitutes. The edited videos went viral and prompted Congress to defund ACORN in the face of a fierce public backlash against the nonprofit group.

Breitbart, in a March 15 interview with the online publication Slate, said he has a penchant for piecing together narratives for news consumption.

“I have a very good memory. I’m also good at connecting things together,” he told Slate. “That allowed me to make outrageous cockamamie narratives. To be able to apply that to the news world, that was it.”

In a recent Fox News Channel interview, Breitbart said his Big Government site is powered by a “citizen journalism revolution” that would now target educators.

“We’re going to take on education next, go after the teachers and the union organizers,” he said.

The threat of lecture video used against professors teaching controversial subjects comes just months after a survey showed how popular recorded lectures have become in higher education.

Nine in 10 students surveyed at the University of Massachusetts’ Lowell campus said video lectures posted online helped them better learn the class material, and 96 percent said they wanted video lecture available for more classes.

Students who watched the video lecture and took notes, according to 2009 research on lecture podcasts, scored an average of 15 points higher than their peers who did not.

Jacqueline Moloney, executive vice chancellor and head of online learning at UMass Lowell, said the ability to review parts of lengthy lectures while studying for exams has become preferable to relying on speedy note taking.

“You lose a lot of what the faculty is trying to teach you when you focus more on transcribing,” she said. “With [lecture capture], students don’t feel nearly the pressure to take down every word.”

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