James Tracy lectures at FAU for the first time since his firing

The former professor spoke to students about the CIA’s involvement in the media.

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James Tracy lectures at FAU for the first time since his firing

Former professor James Tracy lectures to current professor Marshall DeRosa’s Issues in American Politics class. Alexander Rodriguez | News Editor

Former professor James Tracy lectures to current professor Marshall DeRosa’s Issues in American Politics class. Alexander Rodriguez | News Editor

Former professor James Tracy lectures to current professor Marshall DeRosa’s Issues in American Politics class. Alexander Rodriguez | News Editor

Former professor James Tracy lectures to current professor Marshall DeRosa’s Issues in American Politics class. Alexander Rodriguez | News Editor

Cameren Boatner, Staff Writer

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James Tracy took his first steps on the Boca campus Thursday since clearing out his office over two years ago.

About 70 students attended his two-hour guest lecture in professor Marshall DeRosa’s Issues in American Politics class. The former communication professor gave what he called a “condensed” version of the CIA’s past involvement in American media.

“Obviously this lecture is something I’d like to cover in a whole semester, but I can’t do that given the situation,” Tracy said, referencing his 2016 firing over a failure to report outside income.

Although, Tracy believed his controversial blog, “Memory Hole,” led to his termination. Specifically, he claimed he was fired over posts claiming the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was staged by the government.

He later sued FAU for wrongful termination, eventually losing the case in December 2017.

Political science professor DeRosa, a long time colleague of Tracy’s, said he invited him to give a guest lecture even before his dismissal from the university.

The General South classroom was quiet throughout Tracy’s PowerPoint presentation, except for a “this should be interesting” comment from a student beforehand.

DeRosa thought the lecture, titled, “The CIA and the Media: A Brief History of America’s Unfree Press,” would teach students to be skeptical of what they hear because most of it is “filtered” through the news.

“We are at a default to the media, and that can be dangerous,” he said.

James Tracy, a former communication professor, lectures to about 70 students in a General South classroom. Alexander Rodriguez | News Editor

DeRosa then announced that students wouldn’t be permitted to record Tracy’s presentation.

To start off his lecture, Tracy played a video from Russia Today. In the video, German journalist Udo Ulfkotte claimed the CIA bribed him into writing positive stories about the U.S. and negative pieces about Russia.

Ulfkotte said there are, “respected journalists, but if you look behind them, you’ll find that they are puppets on a string of the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Tracy then lectured for almost 90 minutes, presenting “historical evidence” of the CIA’s involvement in American media. This ranged from books on the subject to interviews with ex-CIA agents.

At one point, he brought up the media’s use of the term “conspiracy theorist.” After referencing the New York Times coverage of his firing, Tracy said the term is used “to chill speech and to discipline intellectuals.”

Afterward, DeRosa opened up the floor to questions.

One student sitting in the front row challenged the credibility of the Russia Today video. He asked how the public could trust Ulfkotte if he had apparently been swayed by the CIA in the past.

“I’m not saying I don’t believe him, it just seems, well, suspect,” he said.

Tracy responded by saying that Ulfkotte was just sharing his experience, leaving the interpretation up to the public.

Another student asked whether the CIA’s media manipulation has been positive for America in the past, mentioning the government’s involvement in the Cold War coverage.

Tracy said he could argue both sides.

“This constitutes a sort of fraud, where the media consumers are getting short changed,” Tracy said. “We aren’t getting the whole truth, but it helped us win the war.”

DeRosa then initiated a discussion on whether the CIA’s influence of the media will change.

“The problem is with the locus of power,” DeRosa said. “This is unfixable, it’s more of a fundamental, core issue.”

Tracy said he is more “idealistic” on effecting change when it comes to the media’s alleged corruption.

DeRosa questioned how the public could find the “real news.”

“Through all the clutter, all the noise, all the smoke and mirrors, how do you get to the facts?” DeRosa asked.

Tracy responded without offering a concrete solution, saying that he just wanted students to think critically of what they see in the media.

After the class ended, Tracy told the University Press he “spent the bulk of [his] life here,” teaching from 2002-16. He added that he hasn’t stepped foot on campus since he lost his lawsuit.

But because his wife works at the FAU library, he said he frequently drives through campus to drop her off.

Tracy described his first experience teaching in front of a class at FAU again as “both exhausting and exhilarating at once.”

Cameren Boatner is a staff writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].