Feud Over Professor’s Facebook ‘Like’ Prompts Complaint Against Fortenberry Chief of Staff

Staffer not amused by ‘Fartenberry’ prank

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., participates in the news conference on a bill to repeal certain provisions on the Affordable Care Act in 2012. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., participates in the news conference on a bill to repeal certain provisions on the Affordable Care Act in 2012. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted November 2, 2018 at 10:24am

The House Ethics Committee received a complaint this week about the chief of staff of Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. The staffer has hounded a political science professor in recent days for liking a Facebook post mocking Fortenberry, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

The Facebook post shows a photo of a manipulated campaign sign. Vandals added googly eyes to the congressman’s photo and changed the wording to read, “Jeff Fartenberry: Strong Families, Strong Communities, Strong Odor.”

William “Reyn” Archer III, Fortenberry’s chief of staff, launched a crusade to hold University of Nebraska-Lincoln associate professor Ari Kohen accountable for liking the offending post.

Archer alleges the “like” indicates that Kohen endorses vandalism. Kohen counters that he thought the photo was manipulated with Photoshop and alleges that the congressman’s staffer is using his powerful position to stifle a minor expression of free speech.

First, Archer reported the “like” to Kohen’s supervisors last week. The Lincoln Journal Star obtained an email through a public records request showing Archer that wrote to Kohen’s department head, and copied the dean of the arts and sciences college. 

“I would like to find a time to speak to you about the support one of your faculty has shown for political vandalism,” he wrote. “The question is what the position of the department and university is regarding vandalism or worse violence, which we have seen in this political season.”

The university did not respond to requests for comment from the paper. 

A long phone conversation between Archer and Kohen followed a few days later. Kohen assured Archer that he does not endorse vandalism.

Archer said the Facebook like is “disrespectful of civil discourse and free speech.” Kohen said that Archer’s opprobrium amounts to censorship. 

Archer threatened to publicize his allegation that Kohen endorses vandalism, which Kohen felt could jeopardize his safety. Kohen recorded the conversation and reported Archer to the House Ethics Committee.

But the controversy has cooled a bit since then. Kohen invited Fortenberry to speak to his class.

“Perhaps that would be a more productive way to unpack the complexities of politics in our time,” Fortenberry said.

 The Facebook group Seeing Red Nebraska was behind the post. The group identifies with the political left. 

“We couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of the ‘men are afraid women will laugh at them’ maxim,” the group wrote of the dust-up Thursday.

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Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified the congressman as John. His name is Jeff Fortenberry.