The successes of the academic freedom campaign and the publication of The Professors have produced a rash of websites and a phalanx of pundits devoted to attacking them. Their assaults deploy the unsavory weapons of the character assassin trade – distortion, smears and concocted tales, and a reflexive pouncing on every intellectual disagreement or error honestly made or innocent confusion and treating them as if they were unambiguous, calculated and malicious “lies” by the adversary target. The assumption is that if such tactics are repeated often enough, the enemy will find himself buried under such a pile of sludge that his arguments will simply disappear.
There is nothing new in such tactics. Since the days of Stalin (and Lenin and Marx before) the left has thrived on scorching hatred for its opponents and an attitude of no quarter on the political battlefield. In the free fire zones of the wars they fight, no one can oppose a leftist position on reasonable grounds or for reasonable concerns. The purity of the leftist cause can only be doubted by “fascists,” “racists,” “homophobes,” “enemies of humanity” and “liars.” Opponents of the left are sickening specimens of the race – indecent and unworthy of common respect. To dignify their arguments is a crime against humanity and its aspirations for a better life. They need to be eliminated from the discussion once and for all.
Among the websites driven by these passions is FreeExchangeOnCampus.org, which is financed by the teacher unions, and Media Matters and Campus Progress, which are funded by George Soros and the billionaires behind his operations to unseat President Bush. And one of the attack dogs of the campaign is the son of Sidney Blumenthal, the White House operative who Clinton assigned to destroy the character and credibility Monica Lewinsky and other of his female victims who showed a readiness to defend themselves and fight back.
This Blumenthal son, Max, has his own website at MaxBlumenthal.blogspot.com as well as a column at HuffingtonPost.com, and has published in The Nation and similar venues. Still journalistically wet behind the ears, Max has eagerly embraced the father’s career path, specializing in hit pieces that target political enemies of the left. As one with such an ambition would, Max proudly displays the comments of his victims like trophies on his site. An encomium by Christopher Hitchens, for example, describes him as “A young skunk who hasn’t learned to piss yet.” There are others. If Max’s father had a sense of decency, his paternal instincts might have led him to caution his son before embarking so early on a bottom-feeding career. But Sidney Blumenthal has no such decency and would not even know how to perform this paternal function if it occurred to him to do so.
Max attended my debate with Ward Churchill on April 7 and filed a “report” for his blog and Huffington Post. The article began on this note: “The fact that hundreds of people would gather on the campus of a major university to watch a serious debate on the merits of a bill as insane as Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights, which would allow students to sue their professors and mandate the hiring of one right-wing professor for each professor who assigns supposedly left-wing material, was a victory in itself for the right’s favorite red diaper baby.”
This is quite a sentence. There are many adjectives an opponent of the Academic Bill of Rights might employ to disparage it without actually undermining his case. But “insane” is not one of them. This “insane “bill has inspired legislation that passed the Georgia Senate by a vote of 41-5 (i.e., with ample Democrat support), and the Pennsylvania House, and is incorporated in part in the Higher Education Authorization Act of the United States Congress, whose provisions recently passed the House. The House Bill was also supported by the American Council on Education, a liberal organization embracing every prominent university in the United States.
The text of the Academic Bill of Rights is easily accessible on the Internet and has been specifically praised by its opponents as hard to criticize. The reason is its precepts are so “liberal” – and sane. So to characterize the bill as a lunatic raving effectively calls into question the credibility of the critic himself.
The sentence gets worse. It states falsely that the Academic Bill of Rights “would allow students to sue their professors.” This is a claim that has already been refuted many times. It is based on the assumption that the Bill of Rights is a legal statute with enforcement provisions. Even on such an assumption there is nothing in the bill that would provide a legal basis for students to sue their professors. First because of the fact that one sues a university not an individual professor, a basic fact that a competent reporter would know, but more importantly because there is actually no legislation with enforcement provisions, nor has any such legislation been proposed. All the resolutions regarding the Academic Bill of Rights that have passed through legislative committees are just that – resolutions. None of them has an enforcement mechanism. In other words, the statement is false.
It is also not simply a mistake. All this information is readily available on the web (e.g., at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org, a site containing all versions of the legislation and articles both critical and supportive of the academic freedom movement and the Academic Bill of Rights). The same false claim about the Academic Bill of Rights has been made more than once by its teacher union critics and has been publicly refuted more than once.
The sentence then states that the Academic Bill of Rights would “mandate the hiring of one right-wing professor for each professor who assigns supposedly left-wing material.” This statement reveals the extreme and uncontrollable nature of Max’s partisan passions and why he will have a hard time becoming a credible reporter. He can’t even allow himself the possibility that there may actually be professors who are left-wing. If Max were to write that the Academic Bill of Rights would mandate the hiring of one right-wing professor for each left-wing professor, then his opponents would have said at least one thing that is true -- that there are left-wing professors. But his opponents can’t be allowed even such modest latitude, so Max must make the absurd claim that the Academic Bill of Rights requires the hiring of one right-wing professor “for each professor who assigns supposedly left-wing material.” Got that? There is no such thing as left-wing reading material either, only “supposedly left-wing material.”
But whether it is alleged or not, or whether there are left-wing professors or not, Max’s entire statement is a fiction because the Academic Bill of Rights not only does not mandate political “balance” or the hiring of one right-wing professor for every left-wing assignment, it explicitly forbids the hiring of right-wing professors because they are right-wing. Period. It says instead that “No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs.”
And of course this information too is readily available on the web. In fact, I have pointed out this innumerable times since the first attacks were made against the Bill by its union-inspired critics two-and-a-half years ago. My staff and I have refuted this claim, over and over, by simply quoting what the Bill says.
In sum, in a single sentence young Max has characterized a perfectly reasonable document as “insane,” while fabricating two false claims to prove it.
Max’s malice was also on display in the “interview” he conducted with me after the Churchill debate. I put the word “interview” in quotes since he did not reveal to me who he was until the interview was over. Moreover, he had arranged to have half of it conducted by an agent posing as a journalist unrelated to him. The deception was easy since the “interview” took place among a crowd of onlookers and reporters present who had gathered around the FoxNewsChannel camera to watch the Hannity&Colmes segment that was televised immediately after the debate.
For all I know the journalist pretender was actually a journalist, although Max’s article describes him as merely “a friend.” The friend asked me what I thought of Max’s attack in The Nation on the Madison Center at Princeton, a conservative speaker’s program set up by conservative philosophy professor Robert George. I said the attack displayed the totalitarian mind-set of the Blumenthal left. Princeton is a typical campus featuring multiple ideologically leftwing departments and programs and the Madison Center is a lone and very modest conservative effort to bring intellectuals to Princeton who could not get a faculty position at Princeton because of the existing blacklist. The Madison Center is not even a department or a curriculum at Princeton, and yet it was already too much intellectual diversity for leftists like Max. One modest program and Max and The Nation felt the need to stamp it out as a threat.
When I had finished answering, the imposter journalist then asked me what I thought of Max Blumenthal. Still unaware that he was standing next to me, I said “He’s a chip off the scuzzy old block.” The plant asked me how I spelled “scuzzy.” S-C-U-Z-Z-Y. Then he said: “That’s Max Blumenthal,” who glared hard at me and vanished.
Earlier, without announcing himself, a tightly wound Max had asked me why I hadn’t included Kevin McDonald of “Long Beach State” in my book The Professors. It was a “gotcha” question. “Because I have no idea who he is” was my reply. The incognito Max then advised me McDonald was a “racist.” I said, well, if he is and I had known about him, I would have included him. Instead of taking this for an answer he pursued another attack route: “Why did you feature Jared Taylor on your site?” He was referring to an article by Taylor on racial crimes committed by blacks during Hurricane Katrina that somehow didn’t become part of the discussion of racism during the Katrina flap. In the national discussion of Katrina, Bush was accused of racism for failing to be on site immediately in New Orleans but actual racial crimes committed by blacks were rendered invisible.
In printing Taylor’s piece, I didn’t “feature” Taylor in the sense of “Here’s someone who speaks for me or my magazine.” In fact I prefaced his article with an editorial statement dissociating the magazine from his racist views but saying that the information he presented about criminal activity in New Orleans and the hypocrisy of the left’s racial abuse of Katrina should be confronted, particularly since his information came from reliable sources. I said why does it take a racist to raise these troubling issues? I knew the answer, which was that others have been so intimidated by the witch-hunting left that they are afraid to raise them themselves.
Previously, I had written an entire piece about Taylor and why his views were deplorable and should be rejected. I did so not only because that is my view, but because the attempt to pin Taylor’s views on me was already part of a leftwing campaign to slander and discredit me as a racist. Max is an accomplished mud-slinger in this effort, having written an article about Christopher Hitchens and me attempting to link us to neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers.
What my encounter with Max shows is that because of the very liberal nature of what it is trying to achieve, the academic freedom campaign has torn a veil from that segment – the “progressive” segment -- of the political left to reveal that it has not changed morally or in its political tactics since the heyday of Stalin. Character assassination rather than political argument is its method of choice, and its scruples are non-existent. Consequently, I have written this not to put the young Blumenthal in his place, but to focus attention once more on the problems created by the moral squalor and intellectual dishonesty of the left.