Thursday, June 09, 2005

Mike Littwin: "Never give up the fight for free spee--ah, screw it"

The fifth and final part of the Rocky Mountain News series on Ward Churchill today examines his Indian ancestry and finds, shockingly, that he has none. It's good stuff, highly embarrassing to Ward if that were possible, and Pirate Ballerina will take you through it with glee.

But what I really enjoyed was longtime idiotarian columnist Mike Littwin's same-edition take on the News series, "Free expression at heart of Churchill case." Littwin begins the piece on a note of self-pity:

For those of us stuck with defending Ward Churchill, this is not an easy time.

I mean, if the case against Churchill wasn't clear before the Rocky's devastating series on the CU professor, it has to be obvious now to anyone who can read.

It has become all but impossible to defend Churchill on the facts.

All but. One commiserates with Mike's distress, but when he says he was "stuck with" defending Churchill, what can he mean? Was he forced into it? Did Churchill threaten him or something? If so, Mike has gotten brave:

I haven't seen Churchill's 50-page, single-spaced reply to the CU investigative committee, although I can imagine each densely packed sentence, in triplicate. But I have seen his e-mails regarding this series. And I'm still waiting for the first sign of a plausible Churchill defense.

The facts, as presented, lead you directly to one conclusion:

At the end of what will seem like an endless round of investigations, CU will eventually get around to firing Churchill.

It's hard to see how he can survive the charges of plagiarism or the charges of mischaracterizing events material or the charges of misrepresenting source material. (I predict the American Indian ancestry charge will be dropped. It seems his grandma really did tell him he was an Indian.)

How sweet. His old grammy told him so. This minimization by gentle humor will recur. But first, Mike must inform us that

[H]owever damning [the facts] seem to be, they don't tell the whole story.

That's because we can't decide whether this story is about Churchill - one professor - or whether he's only a minor player in his own saga.

Certainly, the story is about CU, which hired him, gave him tenure and promoted him to department chair despite repeated warning signs.

Mike really believes this isn't about Churchill being a liar, a thief, a sly preacher of violence, an academic charlatan and an all-around horse's ass; it's about CU, and it's
. . . obviously about academic freedom and the limits of dissent. That's how the story started and, however the story line has changed, that's where it remains. And it's where the real issue lies.

There's no story, and no investigation, without Churchill's "little Eichmanns" essay and without the uproar that followed.

You remember the uproar, even if you never actually got around to reading the essay. It started with the essay and moved on to the suggestion that Churchill was inciting young revolutionaries to violence.

I'm pretty sure at one point he was being accused of trying to actively overthrow the government.
So Mike is "pretty sure" somebody "suggested" that Ward advocated violent revolution. But there's no evidence, right? Certainly Mike cites none while dismissing the charge with his trademark gentle sarcasm.

But now, the CU investigation has settled on the story of Churchill's troubling scholarship. The story is definitely there, as the series ably shows. If there were no prologue, though, I wonder who would be paying any attention to it.

Some people make the argument that Churchill shouldn't be fired, no matter what the evidence shows. There's a better case to be made. Even if you're not a witch, after all, you can still be a plagiarist.

But it's too easy to say this is now about Churchill's scholarship. We have moved into dangerous territory. We should never have gone there.

Nice writing, Mike.

Any fair reading of the Churchill story says it can't just be about a professor accused of playing loose with the facts. The outrage goes much deeper than that.

After all, there's no shortage of loose-fact-playing out there in the world - and not just in that part of it where Jayson Blair lives.

Jayson Blair! He actually pulls Jayson Blair out to defend Churchill!

And what are we getting so excited about anyway? Churchill is really no big deal compared to all the truly nefarious people skulking around:
If you want some fresh outrage, look at the story in in The New York Times Wednesday charging that a White House official edited climate reports to alter
the relationship between emissions and global warming.

If you want some slightly warmed-over outrage, you should check out the Bush-Blair news conference, in which the president finally addressed the all-but-ignored-by-the-media Downing Street memo.

The memo dates from a 2002 meeting, eight months before the start of the Iraq war, in which a British official says the Bush administration 'fixed' intelligence to help make the case for removing Saddam.

My outrage is certainly warmed over now!
And then there's the Churchill story, which may not rise quite to that level of urgency.

If you read the Churchill series - and what's remarkable about the series is how many sources that Churchill cited refute his work - you learn at least part of what drives him.

Churchill wants to show that the treatment of American Indians amounts to genocide. The strange thing is, there is no need to massage the historical record to show the full horror of this story.
So genocide made him do it, Mikey, is that it? And by the way, you agree with Churchill that it was genocide, right?
But that isn't where the controversy begins.
What the Churchill story did was cross the fault lines of the culture war and enter the world of talk radio.
Oh, no. No, no, no. Please, no.

You want to get an argument started, mention affirmative action. Or the liberal professoriate.

Churchill called 9/11 victims little Eichmanns and, when the essay was discovered three years after the fact, he suddenly became more than just Ward Churchill. He became a symbol.

But of what?

The truth is that Churchill isn't symbolic of much. The truth is that charges made against Churchill are simply charges made against Churchill.

The truth is that if it turns out he's a plagiarist, it means only that he's a plagiarist.
Not quite. What's obvious to almost everyone but Littwin, and precisely why the story has gotten so much attention, is that Churchill is the perfect symbol of the irresponsible academic left; most ethnic studies types, in fact, are just like him. Take Emma Perez, who, when she took over from Ward as chairman of the CU ethnic studies department, made comments just as stupid as, if not stupider than, anything Ward has ever said. Sure, she's his creature, but does anyone really believe this attitude isn't prevalent in ethnic studies departments all over? Apparently Littwin does:

If there's a bigger story here, it's not about Churchill.

It's about those who wanted him fired long before anyone looked at his scholarship.

It's about how CU panicked at the sound of the public outcry.

It's about having to defend the right of obnoxious speech, which must be done, no matter how hard it turns out to be.

Not exactly "Give me liberty or give me death," but lead on, idiot fighter for freedom!

Oh wait, this column is about why you're abandoning Ward. Never mind.

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