When the Aug. 21 email was sent from Lisa Sparks, dean of the School of Communication, that named Brian Calle as director of the new Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity, it was surprising. Anyone involved in the journalism world in Southern California knows who Calle is, what publications he has written for, his history as the CEO of alt-publication LA Weekly and, of course, his subtle charm.
Calle took over LA Weekly in 2017 and butchered the editorial staff, leaving only one writer on staff and seasoned editors looking for work in his wake. His reputation consists of a Breitbart affiliation, a segment on Fox 11, a history of serving as the vice president of a conservative think tank, a chief marketing officer of a cannabis company, a role in a Russian-made film and a Twitter bio that reads “trolls belong under a bridge.”
Calle denied any involvement with the cannabis company Kurvana, explained away the firing of LA Weekly’s editorial staff as an economic matter and said that he never paid attention to what publications (like Breitbart-owned entertainment news platform Big Hollywood) were publishing his work. For every criticism made, Calle had an answer and told The Panther that he refers to himself as a “punching bag” for peoples’ frustrations.
We think a center on campus that promotes the integrity of the media is not only a great addition to Chapman, but something that should’ve materialized long ago. In a time where the term “fake news” is thrown around like confetti, the importance of adhering to the journalistic ethics detailed by the Society of Professional Journalists cannot be overstated. A center dedicated to media integrity could promote just that. Every day, we strive to embody the practices of ethical journalism and collectively think that the new Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity and student organization BridgeUSA, a space where students can speak freely, is essential at Chapman. There is no better time in someone’s life to explore differences of opinion than in college.
But when the new director of the Center has been called out by the president of the Society of Professional Journalists and his actions categorized as “an absolute outrage,” has been called the “least respected journalist in Southern California” by a former employee of LA Weekly and allegedly slashed an entire editorial staff without notice, it is cause for concern.
We want to see the Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity thrive. We want to see students engaging in difficult topics, learning what it takes to exist in a fake news versus truth society and how to face the backlash that comes with standing up for what is right. We want to see integrity upheld. But leading this center will require adhering to true journalistic morals, something we believe Calle’s reputation does not include.
So, Brian Calle, please show students that the truth should never be compromised, that non-reputable news sources degrade our profession and our democracy and that ethical journalists should be valued. Please proceed with care and caution; please let every student who wants to learn truly feel welcome.