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American Federation of the Totally Clueless By: Malcolm A. Kline
CampusReportOnline.net | Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Recently, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) took sideswipes at two friends of mine—Candace de Russy and David Horowitz. What AFT editor Barbara McKenna did was to set up a quote from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and then ask whether it was said by Candace, David or Mahmoud. “A) is a good guess, since conservative reformer de Russy has been on a two-year tear to implement an academic bill of rights at [the State University of New York] SUNY, as Free Exchange on Campus has reported” McKenna writes.

She should have checked this with a more primary source. “And remember,” Candace wrote in an e-mail to me, “my final and repeated public stand on the issue has been that SUNY and other institutions adopt the rights statement put out in summer ‘05 (I believe) by the Council on American Education and 29 other higher education organizations, so she didn't even get that right but keeps saying I'm backing ABOR per se.”

As to McKenna’s other target, she does not fare much better in the accuracy of her assault on him either. “An answer of B) is not far off the mark, since Horowitz, a well-known right-wing instigator, routinely urges his followers to challenge their ‘dangerous’ professors,” McKenna writes. “On Sept. 11, the lead story of his Web-based magazine, FrontPagemag.com, was ‘Revolution: A Back to School Guide.’”

“It begins: ‘Conservatives, welcome back to campus, that bastion of hostility toward your faith, politics and lifestyle, where Marx is revered, common sense eschewed, and multiculturalism matters more than mathematics.’” The problem is, Horowitz never wrote this.

“Revolution” is a book review by Julia A. Seymour, then a staff writer with Accuracy in Academia. The editors at Frontpage.com posted the review on their site.

Note to Barbara: Since, like me, she is a web editor, she should know that the middle column of the home page is usually where lead stories go. The margins, where Julia’s piece appeared on Frontpage.com, are normally reserved for links and logos.

At any rate, a couple of clicks of the old mouse would have clued Barbara in. If she cannot do such rudimentary fact-checking, perhaps she is not ready to tackle more complicated research.

As to the Ahmadinejad quote itself, it reads, “Today, students should shout at the president and ask why liberal and secular university lecturers are present in the universities.” I pointed out to Ms. McKenna that in all my years of reading and listening to de Russy and Horowitz, I never ran across a quote that even vaguely resembled the one that she showcased.

“It was the gist of what they said,” she explained to me. “It was the bulk of what they said. It was the spirit of what they said.” It turns out that McKenna never actually heard or read anything either of them said. This fresh approach to exposition turns out to be a hallmark of McKenna’s work.

She also refuses to believe there is a problem of left-wing dominance on campus, demanding evidence of same even when it is summarized for her. I challenged her to name one liberal professor fired for his or her political views, the danger her group claims is implicit in the academic bill of rights.

“I don’t think that any professor, liberal or conservative, has been fired for their political views,” she said. I then gave her about a half a dozen examples of conservative professors who were fired or otherwise punished for their views and noted that those perspectives were expressed outside of the classroom as opposed to the in-house liberal homilies that AIA documents.

She went on to talk about how her organization supports a marketplace of ideas and does not want pedagogues punished for their political stances and wants students to have access to all philosophies. I told her that she sounded like she was quoting from the academic bill of rights.

That’s when I discovered that she hadn’t read it either. Maybe it’s an institutional thing. Here at Accuracy in Academia, before we write about something that someone has written, we read it first.

Apparently, this is a novel approach in McKenna’s world. I noticed another divergence as well; where I rely heavily on the words “know” and “show,” Ms. McKenna favors “think,” “believe,” and, most frequently, “feel.”

The former is useful in setting up information to be transmitted. The latter set of verbs, most often these days, presage interpretations and speculation, increasingly, without supporting documentation.

Pretty clearly, mistakes were made over at the AFT. When we err, we post corrections. Is it to much to ask to expect the nation’s second largest teachers’ union to do the same?

And with that admission, could the powers-that-be at the brotherhood and sisterhood of the AFT apologize to Ms. McKenna’s American targets, at least until they have read their work?

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Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.


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