Distinguished lecture series: Politics, the press and the presidential election

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Distinguished lecture series: Politics, the press and the presidential election

Cassidy Schmidt, Writer

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On Thursday evening, Sept. 12,  an individual rushed the stage during the sixth installment of the Daniel L. Goodwin Distinguished Lecture Series. Again later that evening, an NEIU professor and protest co-organizer also came up on stage in response to Spicer’s presence.

The event opened with President Gibson introducing Goodwin, an alumnus of NEIU who funded the event. Gibson listed Goodwin’s many firsts for the university, including being “the first person to commit a multi-million dollar gift to the university.”

Meanwhile, protesters gathered outside of Lech Walesa Hall and marched to the lobby outside of the auditorium following a mass email sent out by university President Gloria Gibson. In her email, Gibson said that despite opposition from members of the university community, she had decided to move forward with the privately funded event. 

Goodwin briefly took the stage to offer some of his own insight on the lecture series to date. 

“You must admit that there’s no other agenda here. There’s no political angle. There’s no other theme. We have simply invited people from different walks of life, people that were well known, and people who had different political, financial and other beliefs. And I think we’ve had a good balance. And that’s what we tried to do with tonight’s program. We tried to have a good balance. And I think our guests will prove that to be true,” he said.  

The name of the event was “Daniel L. Goodwin Distinguished Lecture Series presents: Politics, the Press, and the Presidential Election: A discussion with Donna Brazile and Sean Spicer.”

Goodwin then introduced the night’s moderator, Window To The World’s (WTTW) host of Chicago Tonight, Phil Ponce. 

He followed the introduction with, “… it’s my pleasure now to see another event and take maybe a new step…. I’ve always wanted a little bit of controversy.”

Before turning it back over to President Gibson, Goodwin also read a portion of NEIU’s mission statement. 

Shortly after Goodwin’s closing statement, NEIU student Steve Mendez rushed the stage and threw noise makers into the crowd as he yelled, “Shut it down.” Four NEIU police officers tackled him, while he continued to shout statements including: “I am a student here”, “all you are complacent to fucking Nazis” and “you’re hurting me”. 

Mendez’s stage rush prompted audience members to yell back in response, making statements like “you’re the Nazi” and “freedom of speech, get him out of here.” Applause came from the crowd as the officers eventually escorted him off the stage and out of the auditorium. The incident lasted approximately two minutes.  

Once the guests were invited to the stage more opposition came from the audience in the form of heckling and other comments once  Ponce invited both speakers to the stage. One audience member yelled out, “Spicer, you fucking scumbag, kill yourself. You’ll do anything for a buck. The school too.”

Ponce started off the lecture by acknowledging protesters’ concerns. 

“We hear you. We know you’re there. And most questions will be posed…A lot of people here want to hear both of them, you know what, if we agreed with everybody what a, you know what an uninteresting world it would be, sometimes maybe this world is a little too interesting, but I ask you to give the evening a chance, okay?” 

Ponce went on to explain that the program was scheduled to run until about 8:30 but said both speakers had agreed to stay a little longer depending on how the flow of the evening is going. 

Ponce then laid out the evening beginning by addressing concerns on Spicer’s attendance. Afterwards, he explained that he would then give about 10 to 15 minutes on the topics of politics, the presidential election and dealing with the press. He also said he would be incorporating some of the questions submitted online by students, faculty and community members. 

Community members who attended the event seemed to agree that while the event might not have suited everyone’s taste, it was a fair and interesting event. 

Community member Michelle Armamentos said in response to the event, “I thought it was very even. They gave fairness to what was going on outside, the people protesting..I thought it was very well balanced. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Throughout the event, the shouting of protesters could be heard from outside in the auditorium’s lobby. Ponce addressed it by saying, “It’s a sign of health, where people can be yelling in protest and at the same time, we have the ability to have a robust but civil conversation.” 

Ponce also joked with Spicer. He said to him, “Sean, you’re good at this, how…how big of a crowd do you think we have.”  This was followed by many laughs. 

As the discussion continued Ponce paraphrased the petition letter to disinvite Spicer to campus, written by Stockdill and signed by several hundred students. He then asked Spicer to respond. 

He responded: “When a group of people, on either side, seemingly tries to speak for everybody, meaning that to suggest somehow there is no one here at NEIU that’s a conservative, that supports the current administration, is a stretch at the very least.”

Spicer went on to say, “My point being is this, the left continues to talk about tolerance and inclusivity, except for those who don’t agree with a far left progressive agenda.”

His statements began to incite input from the audience Spicer became agitated as he said, “You read an entire letter making serious accusations against me, at least give me the respect to answer…You want to control the conversation. Let me answer. I’m sitting here. I’ll answer any question you have.” 

 When questioned on whether he felt as though he was asked to lie to the American public on behalf of the president, Spicer referred to his official role as spokesperson 

Spicer said, “I am and was a spokesperson for an individual. My job is to go out and repeat the thoughts and views of whoever is the principal at the time. If they don’t like the answer of the policy, that’s not my problem.”

Brett Stockdill, a sociology professor at NEIU and co-organizer of the protest going on outside, entered the auditorium as Spicer responded to a question from Ponce about the White House’s temporary bar on The New York Times, CNN and Politico. Spicer began, “I had a group of folks in my office…”

Stockdill interrupted, “Were they racist like you, you white-supremacist-piece-of-shit?”

Spicer then invited Stockdill to the stage to which he responded, “I’ll come down there, alright, you’re inviting me.” He proceeded to climb on the stage and sit cross-legged. 

Stockdill was not on stage long before Ponce disinvited him from the stage. He was ushered to leave by NEIU police.  

The remainder of the evening involved Ponce asking both speakers questions submitted by students, staff and the community. Ponce asked both speakers questions on the upcoming election. He asked Brazile about her transition over to Fox News, the response she got and if she regretted her decision to join Fox News.   

Brazile said: “No, because when you lose an election by less than 78,701 votes, you better figure out what the hell happened…I need to help reach those Americans who don’t hear from us. That don’t hear from liberals…It makes me a better person to understand what my quote-unquote what my opposition is saying so that I can either correct them or understand why they are calling me a socialist.” 

She also said, “I love my world at Fox. I want you all to know that. They treat me very well. Very well. I have not had one bad experience. I have not had to cuss one person out.”

Ponce also posed a submitted question to Spicer about the mental competency of President Trump. Ponce pointed to speculation on Trump suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, mentioning the American Psychiatric Association and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  

To which Spicer responded, “…these are the kind of questions that are silly…I have no medical training, and to sit here and say, oh yeah, I mean, honest to God, that is literally a silly question.”
Ponce asked Brazile about her recent assertion that President Trump has nothing to do with the recent mass shootings, including the one is El Paso. 

Brazile said, “You see too often we make it about Donald Trump and we putting it all on Donald Trump. Oh, it’s Trump. There was racism in this country before Donald Trump…People fail to recognize what we have seen as a disease that’s been coming up in this country. I witnessed it personally as a child of the South.” 

She continued: “And I’m also sick of talking about racism..Jesus Christ, can we begin to believe that we are one people, one country, one America…If you’re a man you’re not better than me. If you’re white person you’re not better than me. I am an American. I love this country.”

Both speakers listened to one another without interruption. 

The evening concluded with questions for Spicer about being a topic on Saturday Night Live and Dancing with the Stars, as well as some closing statements from both speakers. Brazile got up from her seat at the end to do a little dance to show Spicer what to do when he hears the music on Dancing with the Stars.

Spicers closing statements included this, “Look, I think we’ve gotta get back, and Donna referenced this and I couldn’t agree more, to a culture where we can agree to respect people of different backgrounds and understand that because someone else doesn’t share the same views that you do, doesn’t make them a bad person.”

Another community member, Tom Mollo, said, “I think the intention, the inclusiveness, I think it fits the spirit and the mission of the university. I don’t think it was wrong to have this event..It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s something that I think needed to be done.”

Student Kevin Coleman said, “I felt I pretty much I got what I expected, more or less. Actually, there were some points of Ms. Brazile’s comments that somewhat surprised me. It was because when she had kinda the Kumbaya speech and I was like yeah that’s great but, like we were just saying, I don’t see that happening in my lifetime or my kids for that matter because America has a long dark history with other cultures. And I think Mr. Spicer exposed himself for what he is, deceitful, and I applaud him for his commitment to his beliefs. At the same time, I understand the protest because when your commitments to your beliefs take you to dark places, I don’t think it’s a good thing, not for him or for anyone for that matter.”