Parents who fear that their college-aged “children” will be brainwashed by Ward Churchill can rest easy now, knowing that Churchill’s radically liberal views are counterbalanced by the radically conservative “thought cops” on Fox, where pseudo-journalism posing as news acts as a choke hold to check and balance to free speech in the United States.
Now that Ward Churchill has officially gotten the ax, we should take a moment to reflect on the Churchill/Colorado saga in its entirety.
Ward Churchill first found himself in the national spotlight in the fall of 2004. Somehow the media caught wind of the parallels he’d drawn between Americans who died in the world trade center attacks and innocent civilians from “enemy” countries whose wartime deaths we shrug off as “collateral damage.” To illuminate his point Churchill referred once to American victims as “little Eichmanns” a historical reference that the media were not only too dumb to understand but too lazy to look up. Thus what on Churchill’s part was an objective, thoughtful assessment of the situation was spun by the corporate news media into a hateful, incoherent, anti-American rant. In a country still so burning with leftover raw emotion, it was fashionable to bash any American whose response to 9/11 was anything other than “Die Camel Jockey, Die!” So when we learned that an American professor had likened innocent 9/11 children to vicious Nazi murderers, context and fact-checking weren’t exactly high on our to-do lists. If in retrospect, however, you wish to supplement the factually baseless propaganda we consumed in 2005 with a legitimate summary of Churchill’s essay, please read his own account of what he meant.
After Churchill’s 9-11 essay was taken out of context, the University of Colorado administrators knew they had to find a way to dump Churchill–and fast. The media witch hunt spelled too much bad publicity for the school, as O’Reilly and other propagandists called on major alumni and other benefactors to stop donating money to CU unless Churchill was fired . Obediently and (somewhat) CU launched a lengthy investigation for the sole purpose of finding dirt on Churchill and firing him for it. Two years later they’ve finally found something–Churchill allegedly did some ghostwriting (i.e., he wrote articles under pen-names and published them in books he edited under his own) and may also have plagiarized a few paragraphs in one of his books.
Whether or not Churchill is legitimately guilty of these scholarly offenses, let us not be duped into buying the official story that the school takes plagiarism incredibly seriously and that Churchill’s firing had absolutely nothing to do with his infamous “little Eichmanns” quote. As someone who’s spent ten years in academia, I know that in certain fields (social sciences) Churchill’s “ineptness” (plagiarism, etc.) is fairly common. State universities are littered with inept professors, and usually administrators couldn’t care less. CU fired Churchill not to crack down on academic sloppiness but to appease the witch-hunters at FoxNews who were determined to continue lobbing verbal grenades at Boulder until they hit their mark.
Too many people choose not to read between these lines, perhaps because they’re as angry as Fox is about the Colorado professor’s anti-American comments. But as I explained in an earlier post, we need neither be frightened nor infuriated if we consider Churchill’s comments open-mindedly and in their intended context.
There is something more disturbing about this fiasco than plagiarism or ghostwriting or even Churchill’s comparing 9/11 victims to Nazi technocrats; and that is the increasing power of the media in shaping, rather than REPORTING, the news. It is not the job of FoxNews to silence all voices they’ve decided don’t deserve to be heard. Even if FoxNews was morally correct in all of its political positions, how can we call ourselves a “superpower” if our everyday citizens are so fragile that we depend on our news media to shelter and shield us from reality by cutting mics and stifling criticism and filtering out all of the world’s ugly unpleasantries? As guests on The O’Reilly Factor constantly have to remind the hotheaded host, “the first amendment lives in a rough neighborhood.” Allowing all voices to be heard inevitably means that we’ll be subjected to offensive opinions from time to time. But our culture has proven repeatedly our ability to shrug off hateful radicals and whatever mean things they say. We don’t need Bill O’Reilly to protect us from dissenting opinions; in fact, the right of the people to speak against our government is part of the “freedom” that Americans celebrate on bumper stickers and die for in wars.
What’s more, the misconduct was exaggerated and the punishment excessive. For years Irving Louis Horowitz plagiarized the work of his STUDENTS; yet he is still viewed favorably by many in his academic circle. Of course, Horowitz wrote diatribes against Marxism whereas Churchill’s beef is with American imperialism.
American higher education is indeed irresponsible, and lazy administrators too often condone the sloppiness of tenured professors. But to believe Churchill’s firing was really about scholarly incompetence is incredibly naive. Sure, Bill O’Reilly plays that card, but only to downplay his own role in mandating public opinion on websites and in classrooms.
A dangerous atmosphere is emerging, whereby patriotic words are sufficing in place of patriotic deeds. We’re turning our backs in real life on the very freedoms we so voraciously defend in our minds and so proudly display on our bumpers. One of the perks of the democracy is supposed to be the right of citizens to speak out against national policies, and the right of groups of citizens to debate dissenting opinions in a public forum. O’Reilly should know that from the history books he claims to have read.