Tuesday, September 16, 2003

False Witness, and its Bearing-in-progress.

Every so often I'll encounter a David Horowitz article, in the course of doing Web-stuff, and just about every time I am reminded of what an intellectually-dishonest nut he is. A case-in-point is this attack on Al Franken's book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, which Horowitz wrote. I found it on Busy, Busy, Busy, where it was helpfully shortened. For no real reason - - I was waiting five minutes for dinner to finish baking - - I read the actual article. And sure enough, Horowitz is still a nut.

First, there's the opening graf. Now, I'm only halfway through Franken's book, so I may very well be wrong here. But I find it vanishingly hard to believe that Franken thinks, or even suggests, that "All Republicans are racists". At one point, for example, Franken writes admiringly of John McCain, who last time I checked is Republican, and not racist. (I admire McCain a great deal myself, even if I disagree with him on a great number of issues.) And the simple fact is that President Clinton engaged in a good deal of anti-terrorist activity, much of it specifically directed at Osama Bin Laden. Horowitz, of course, is one of those right-wingers who can't entertain the idea that Darth Clinton accomplished anything at all outside of evading Jedi Master Gingrich, so his discounting of the Clinton anti-terrorism efforts is to be expected.

Horowitz further acts as if the book's level of factual detail is suspicious:

"Where did a comedian like Al Franken get the time, research power and expertise to cover such a wide range of subject matters, almost all of which are out of his normal depth?"

Leaving aside the obvious question as to how qualified Horowitz is to assess Franken's "normal depth" (Franken seems to me a very intelligent comedian, much like Dennis Miller, whom I still find enjoyable even though he's gone over to "the Dark Side"), Horowitz is behaving as if it's somehow scandalous that Franken had a research team helping him in the factual analysis. He's shocked! shocked! that Harvard would sanction such a thing, and he thinks that this is an "educational national disgrace" that Harvard allowed its students to be used in such a manner.

Except, when you look at the section at the book's end where Franken not only names his students but provides their pictures and brief biographical sketches of them, you find this little tidbit:

The fourteen members of TeamFranken [that's what Franken calls his assistants throughout the book] received no course credit for their work. While carrying full course loads at either the Kennedy School or the College, they did their research out of dedication to the truth and for a home-cooked meal provided by my wife Franni every Wednesday night at the Cambridge apartment we rented. [Emphasis added.]

So, to Horowitz, it is an "educational national disgrace" that Harvard allowed fourteen students to do research for Mr. Franken, on their own time, and for no course credit. They didn't give Franken his assistants; they did not assign these students to do this. They did it voluntarily, at the behest of Mr. Franken. All Harvard did is say, "OK, fine", kind of like the University would theoretically do if some students wanted to start up a birdwatching club. If this is Horowitz's idea of an educational disgrace, then I can only imagine how he might feel about the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons group in which I participated on my own time in college, and for which I received no course credit.

Horowitz's next graf is even worse:

Although liberals like Franken regularly complain about the unfair advantage "big right-wing think tanks" provide to the Republican cause, Harvard and in fact the entire Ivy League constitute infinitely larger left-wing think tanks that serve the Democratic cause. (For comparison, Harvard's endowment, according to the latest figures, is $17.5 billion; the Heritage Foundation's is $63 million.)

Sure, Mr. Horowitz. Those two figures you throw out there, at the very end, are really comparable. I'm sure that Mr. Franken, and liberals like him, have the entirety of Harvard's $17.5 billion endowment behind them. I'm sure that none of that money goes to Harvard's physics department or computer science department or athletic program. A better comparison might be the Kennedy School of Government's budget, but even then, you have to differentiate between any activities the Kennedy School engages in that are of similar function to the Heritage Foundation's. Horowitz simply tosses out a couple of numbers, one of which is way bigger than the other, and hopes his readers will assume they're the same thing. Funny how precisely that particular method of lying is demonstrated quite a few times in Franken's book, eh?

And as for the whole bit about slagging the Ivy League, well - - why do conservatives bash the Ivy League incessantly, except for when they rise to the Ivy League's defense when some liberal questions President Bush's intellectual acumen? "How can he be stupid? He went to Yale and got his MBA at Harvard!" Yes, he did - - and he managed to spend all those years hip-deep in all them libruls and managed to become the most conservative US President since Coolidge. That either means that the Ivy League isn't quite the liberal incubation scheme that Horowitz and his cohorts like to say it is, or it means that the Ivy League actually is a liberal incubation scheme and merely isn't very good at it, in which case Horowitz and his cohorts should stop acting like the Ivy League threatens the entire fabric of, well, everything.

Of course, the last few grafs are basically where Horowitz pimps out some study performed by his own cohorts that proves liberal bias in academia. My general reaction to that is, basically, to yawn. Maybe he's right, maybe he isn't. He doesn't provide any links to the study, and I don't much care anyway. My own collegiate experience, anecdotal as it is, was that even the most liberal professors there had little effect on the views of my conservative classmates. Even if academia is overwhelmingly liberal, which I am by no means prepared to grant, I'm not at all convinced that this is in any way pernicious.

So, I'm content to let David Horowitz vanish back into whatever weird ethereal realm he usually inhabits. Better luck next time, Mr. Horowitz.

(Actually, I can't let this one sentence in the article go without comment:

Ann Coulter has written a parallel bestseller (under her own steam, however) that attacks liberals and Democrats like Al Franken. Can anyone imagine Harvard soliciting Coulter to write her book, "Treason," by providing her with 14 graduate students to research it?

Frankly, no, I can't imagine Harvard giving Coulter 14 graduate assistants to research her book. But maybe next time Coulter should ask for some Harvard students, if only to give her insane blatherings a small bit of veracity.)

No comments: