The University of Montana School of Journalism was going to get dragged. The question was who would do it.

Sen. Steve Daines eagerly assumed the honor, delivering, by video, a two-and-a-half-minute dress-down of the department for its refusal to sponsor the Christian-conservative provocateur, Mike Adams of North Carolina, whom J-school donor Maria Cole had selected as the speaker for her 10th annual Cole Lecture, in honor of her late husband, Missoulian and later Wall Street Journal reporter Jeff Cole.

Daines claimed to be “stunned” by the snub. “With this decision, a public, taxpayer-funded university — and a journalism school, no less — was ignoring the most basic principles of the First Amendment,” he said.

So began a spectacle orchestrated by a fed-up donor. It did not matter that Cole’s speaker is not a journalist, or that his talk — a polemic against policing speech, particularly Christian speech, on college campuses — did not mention journalism, save for one bizarre dig at an unspecified reporter who had apparently emailed Adams a question about what he intended to accomplish with his appearance. “To speak,” Adams answered defiantly. No one bothered to explain how the J-school’s refusal to attach its name to the speech in any way prevented Adams from accomplishing that goal.

The lashes delivered by Cole were merely implicit. She spent 15 minutes honoring four local veterans and law enforcement officers, whom she introduced as fighting for freedom every day — remarks that served to put self-righteous journalists, who claim an identity as First Amendment defenders, in their place.

No journalism school in its right mind would have sponsored Tuesday’s event, which began and ended with Christian prayer. It’s hard to believe that Cole ever sincerely expected that UM’s would. But the set-up worked. UM President Seth Bodnar had ordered a disclaimer taped to the theater’s doors explaining that the speaker’s views do not represent UM’s. Adams just used that entirely unnecessary act as the tee for his opening drive. And when a woman in the audience yelled that Adams was a bigot, he saw his chance to grandstand about his refusal to be silenced.

Cole had said the event’s purpose was to promote civil discourse, and, before the closing prayer, a minister pulled out a talking stick, saying, “Tonight, this was Dr. [of criminology] Adams’ turn” to hold it. By seizing it so obnoxiously, in the midst of such manufactured controversy, it was Adams’ and Cole’s privilege, not their persecution, that came across loud and clear.

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