What the U's central figure in Troubled Waters has to say about it

A reader passed this on to me a few days ago.

It looks like Karen Himle, the woman at the center of last fall's uproar over the "Troubled Waters" environmental-agricultural documentary at the University of Minnesota, has talked about her experience at that time in a speech in Minnetonka.

You may remember that Himle, who was Vice President for University Relations at the time, made the phone call that cancelled the documentary's premier, and was one of the film's most outspoken critics. That drew howls of outrage from sections of the university community, which considered it a threat to academic freedom, and which saw her connections to agriculture as a serious conflict of interest. During the uproar, the university relations chief was often inaccessible, and the U made a public relations hash of the affair by both avoiding a number of key questions and putting out conflicting answers to others.

Himle later apologized and admitted to making a mistake in how she handled the matter, and resigned in December.

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This past April, in her "The Gift of Scars" speech hosted by Clover Consulting as part of its "Women, Wisdom & Wine" discussion series, Himle makes it sound as if she had been persecuted:

Sometimes just doing your job can have unexpected consequences. ... When I did my job on September 7, I unknowingly ruffled the feathers of a local activist group I'd never heard of. Thanks to social media, this small group commanded what has been described as a "disproportionately loud megaphone‟ and took up against me – their enemy and the perfect target – a person with a public profile. ... I felt like the character Lisbeth Salander in the book The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest watching with amusement and horror about how she was portrayed to the public– falsely and factlessly accused but nonetheless relentlessly flogged in the media.

She says that the news outlets put out the wrong information, apparently without regard for the truth:

In today's world, incorrect information and intentional misinformation is easily manipulated through the wild west of social media where this code of ethics seems not to apply.

What is more insidious is how the incorrect information and misinformation finds its way to mainstream media, which distributes it without confirming whether it is either true or includes all of the relevant facts, creating a perception that cannot be supported by the facts.

And she appears to scale back the apology she made last year:

I needed to put a stop to the noise. No one was going to do it but me.

So I apologized – publicly – on the front page of the paper.

Not for what I had done or how I had done my job, but for not firmly engaging an army of allies – in writing – maybe in blood. Of course, I didn't know I would need to.

As a reporter who covered the story, I'll just say this in response:

If you think the facts aren't coming out, then you need to get involved, state those facts and answer fully all questions that follow -- especially if your job title includes the words "university relations." (Making sure the various accounts agree with each other also helps.)

You can read the full speech here.

(Note: This is a shortened version of the piece published earlier today.)