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Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College — As jury selection approaches, how to explain the political and media silence?

Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College — As jury selection approaches, how to explain the political and media silence?

This social justice warfare case should be ripe for political and media attention, but it hasn’t happened (except at Legal Insurrection)

With the Gibson Bros v. Oberlin College lawsuit set to begin jury selection on Wednesday, I want to pursue the discussion of why this case hasn’t received more national publicity.

Specifically, let’s look at why the national politicians, who crave attention on various issues that keep them elected, haven’t used this case to bolster their left or right viewpoints.

And, of course, whether it is the media wagging the political dog here, meaning that if the media ain’t covering it much, the politicos have less to say.

Because on the surface, conservatives in Congress could promote the issue that a small town business alleges it has been racially defamed by an elite liberal university, and use that to back up an agenda that the far left social justice warrior movement has pushed too far. Conversely, liberals could say that minority students in this country are being abused by a right-wing nationalist fervor that makes it hard for them to buy basic food in a small grocery without being watched too closely because they are all thought of as shoplifters.

I am not looking at who side is right or wrong here. I am looking at why we are hearing virtually no voices from the public bullhorn much at all on this case.

Take U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, for example. He was elected to Congress in 2006 and his district includes Oberlin. He is one of the founding members of the House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative group in Congress and one that has often pontificated on the right’s views of racial equality, free speech, and the rights of independent business owners like Gibson’s Bakery and Market.

If Jim Jordan wants to speak, the media will be there to record him within minutes. And he does so often, known by the FOX News viewers as almost a regular.

So why isn’t Jordan on FOX News with Sean Hannity in the evenings or The Five in the mornings and at least mentioning this case once or twice in more than two years, talking about how a good private business has been wronged by leftist cultural issues? And not in Washington DC either, but at a business in his district.

Jordan has been quiet, like the rest. His spokesman told me last year that Jordan had visited Gibson’s Bakery and appeared on a local Cleveland radio program discussing the Oberlin case soon after it happened in November of 2016.  But in all fairness, I couldn’t find anyone who remembered such a visit or find any media coverage of it.

“He visited the bakery and expressed solidarity and has done what he can to help them,” Jordan spokesman Ian Fury said last year.

If you want some background on this Gibson’s Bros. v Oberlin College case, go here.  It is about how the “towns and gowns” cultural identity and basic business relationships of a small college town got upended by racist accusations that allegedly were neither accurate nor backed up by even basic police reports. One of those news subjects that is both simplistic and complicated, and extremely relevant in this time period.

Along those lines, let’s take the political avoidance of this issue by both sides a little further than just Rep. Jim Jordan.

Lorain County OH, where this lawsuit is taking place, is represented by two other house members besides Jordan: Democrat Marcy Kaptur (first term in 1983), and Republican Bob Gibbs (2011). Neither of them — who have represented this average-sized county (pop. 307,000) for many years (Kaptur even once had Oberlin in her district) — have had anything to say on any part of this case.

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), first elected in 2008 and whose district boundary is just 35 miles from Oberlin, and past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, has never come out to defend Oberlin College in this case that has very racial overtones at its base. She has said nothing either.

Ohio Republican House members Dave Joyce and Anthony Gonzales, whose districts are also within 35 miles of Oberlin, are also keeping quiet.

So are Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown and Republican Sen. Rob Portman. Former governor and presidential candidate John Kasich never weighed in on this either, and he was governor when the protest happened. No one can figure out why a state like Ohio is hearing nothing from its political leaders – or much from the local media as well – on a subject matter that gets bombarded with media coverage almost daily.

For those keeping score at home, neither of the senators or the governor from Ohio have said anything about this case of Oberlin College being accused of racial defamation. The six U.S. House members, two Dems and four GOPs, whose districts are less than an hour drive away from Oberlin, have also been silent.  And silent over a controversial dispute that would erupt with media coverage and political statements had it happened at Harvard or Yale or Stanford or the University of Chicago.

One editor I’ve worked for in the past (at a major news media organization whose name you’d recognize), put it more succinctly: “If this happened at Wellesley College outside of Boston or Swarthmore outside of Philadelphia, we’d all be covering it, because our audience is there,” he said. “I don’t think our readers even know what Oberlin College is anymore, and if the elected officials are avoiding it, we follow them.”

“I still can’t figure out why FOX News isn’t jumping all over this, though,” the editor continued.

I really don’t know what to make of it. I have been in this business a long time, a senior editor with US News & World Report for a decade or so. More recently, I’ve written for Daily Beast, Politico, The Guardian, Next City, Weekly Standard, Pacific Standard, New Republic, Bulwark, etc. Based on my experience, whenever a story like this comes up – with such hot disputes grounded in racial and cultural societal differences – the media and elected officials generally dive in and eat and thank the lord for such a good publicity meal.

They are not doing so with this case. It’s been two-and-half years since this incident happened, and more than year since this case was filed. Little media coverage in that timeline. In fact, the most coverage by far is here at Legal Insurrection.

Are the media and elected officials avoiding this because it is too complicated, they have little to gain from it, or they can’t figure out how to play it up to their constituencies or their readers/viewers? Or is there no collusion involving Russia in this story, so they move on to a story that might have some of that?

Not sure. The case is odd. But the public avoidance of it is even odder.


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I’d say the media is shying away due to complexity. Neither side is really pigeonhole-able into a set slot in The Narrative, and they are pretty useless in portraying subtle shades.

Explained lack of media attention = the left is going to LOSE BIGGLY

JusticeDelivered | May 6, 2019 at 9:55 pm

Oberlin is not the only case which deserves attention, and litigation. And lets not forget those which deserve attention by the FBI, DOJ, or both.

I am hoping to see fire and brimstone reigened down upon all all the left schemers.

amatuerwrangler | May 6, 2019 at 10:10 pm

Maybe its a good thing that the politicians have stayed away. As commented above, its complicated, and despite, by their own admission, that they are the best and brightest, complicated is not something they should be involved in. Their absence gives the court and the parties the opportunity to decide the case based on law and facts without some vote-seeker trying to spin things….

    “Complicated” has never stopped Democrats from exploiting an issue before. In fact, ignoring facts and rushing in at warp speed to establish the preferred Narrative is a Democrat Party speciality. There is no issue so complicated that Democrats won’t try to reduce to a slogan on a bumper sticker while waving the bloody shirt. “Hands up don’t shoot!” “Trump colluded with Russia!” “HIV/AIDS was created by the CIA to kill off blacks and homosexuals!” MLK was murdered by the FBI!” “Reagan just wants to kill us in a nuclear war!” “El Salvador is Spanish for Vietnam!” “Global warming/cooling/climate change is real and all the fault of Big Oil!” “The NRA is a terrorist organization!” “Trump is putting brown children in cages!” The list goes on.

There’s something to be said for picking your battles; besides, the court has already accepted the case.

The media won’t report on it unless they find an angle that will help Democrats and/or hurt Republicans.

And the GOPe is frantic to appear “bipartisan”, so they will stop shy of doing anything that makes Democrats look bad. Look at how Republican Congrsssional leaders have gone silent over the rise of antisemitism in the Democrat Party.

We don’t have a two party system. We have the Stupid Party (Republicans) and the Evil Party (Democrats).

Free State Paul | May 7, 2019 at 12:17 am

I was actually wondering what explains this blog’s obsession with such an insignificant matter.

I confess that I am loving this daily coverage of such a significant (and potentially, in the long-term, meaningful) trial. Thanks for your hard work and engaging reports, Dan!

In the current state of affairs there is NO NEWS
There is only PROPAGANDA – anything that does not fit their AGENDA simply does not exist !

LeftWingLock | May 7, 2019 at 8:59 am

Don’t worry, after the jury finds for Gibson, there will be plenty of articles explaining how (a) this is a travesty of justice and (b) its all Trump’s fault.

healthguyfsu | May 7, 2019 at 11:45 am

I imagine they will wait for a verdict and choose how to proceed.

Honestly though, that is in a backwards way, the right move. Court should be about the rule of law, not rule of the media. Keep the politicians and their go-to mouthpieces out of it.

I’m enjoying coverage of this case–it’s unusual as legal cases go, and defamation right now is a hot topic. A large verdict for Gibson’s might prove to be a wake-up call to other colleges and universities, although I’m not holding my breath.

“If you did something wrong, would you tell Mike Wallace?” This was a line from SNL long long ago when it was funny. But I think it applies here. My SWAG is that Oberlin knows that it did something wrong, and they are trying to contain it big time. I get alumni emails every month and nothing about Gibsons has ever appeared in any of them. This includes the 12 month period between the incident and the filing of the lawsuit. I highly suspect that there was a strong motivation to appear edgy by reinvigorating the “protest culture” that has been on a constant wane since the early 70’s. But at the same time, I also suspect that some people realized that this wasn’t the correct vehicle and that certain lines had been crossed, and thus there was no communication outreach to the alumni because from early on at least a few recognized that this was not going to be a positive message. I can think of a number of alumni who are high up in the media food chain, and if the story was one that the college wanted told, it would be out there. Yet at the same time, if it was story that was not favorable to the college, then I am sure that those same people could likely exert influence, or at least be able to say “nothing to see here folks, move along” to their colleagues who expressed interest.

Anyone who says this case is insignificant is likely doing so because they already know deep down that a loss here is inevitable. I can already hear them chanting “tis but a flesh wound.” 😉

In a month or two, we may need to reinvestigate the accuracy of the statement “there is no such thing as bad publicity.”