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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Clumpy v. smooth

In his latest, most Ward Churchillesque attempt to make the worst of a bad situation, my occasional sparring partner David Horowitz defends his “Discover the Network” site by pointing out that many of its critics have not, in fact, adequately discovered the network:

In the first place it should be pointed out that even though DiscoverTheNetwork consists of thousands of files, and is the product of years of work and decades of experience, these critics have launched their attacks within hours of its appearance on the web and before any serious person could have digested a fraction of its contents.

David’s right about this, of course.  The project was years-- nay, decades-- in the making, and smug snarkmeisters like me came along within hours to make fun of it, just because it contained an “Individuals” page that listed people like Roger Ebert next to Mohammed Atta.  David has every reason to feel sandbagged.  All that time, all that effort-- only to meet with uncomprehending derision.  Now he knows how Michael Cimino felt when he screened that seven-hour version of Heaven’s Gate for those bean-counting United Artists executives!

It is difficult not to regard such attacks as politically motivated attempts to stigmatize, tarnish and yes, smear, the new website, and thus bury the enterprise in a way that would preclude having to deal with the information it displays.

Hey, if it’s difficult, don’t do it!  Just go ahead and say that the leftists and liberals smeared on the site are themselves smearing the site.  We won’t mind!  We love this kind of thing.

Thus, instead of parsing and analyzing the actual contents of the site– the detailed profiles of individuals and organizations and their links to networks defined in the site– these critics have seized on a quirk in the format, an entirely innocent feature of the site, as an opening for their attacks. This is the “Individuals” search page, which functions as a table of contents for one section of the site. Actually it is even less than that. What they have attacked is a picture grid on the Individuals search page which was intended as a kind of visual enticement to enter the actual profiles of the site. Thus if one were to click on the picture of Barbra Streisand or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or Michael Moore on this page, one would be immediately directed to their individual profile pages.

The mere listing of these figures in the database was not intended to suggest that there are organizational links or common agendas or coinciding agendas between these individuals.

My apologies for seizing on a mere quirk in the format, FrontPage fans!  Not being very good with computers (as this blog’s regular readers are well aware), I had no idea that the posting of Bill Moyers’ picture alongside the Ayatollah Khomeini’s was an entirely innocent feature of the site.  Nor did I understand that the mere listing of these figures in the database was not intended to suggest that there are organizational links or common agendas or coinciding agendas between these individuals.  Again, I’m not very good at deciphering databases.  I simply thought we were being invited to, uh, how you say, “Discover the Network,” and that the “Individuals” page indicated pretty clearly that the Network consisted of people like Bruce Springsteen, Zacarias Moussaoui, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Rob Reiner.  My mistake!  Thanks for clearing that one up!

And then it gets personal. Not content with the defense of the site’s formatting quirks and innocent features, David proceeds to make fun of my tentative, innocuous, well-meaning post on the Network, calling it “a pretty good rendering of the paranoid fantasies of the left” and claiming that “its ‘humor’ . . . is so clumpy, however, that you would hardly suspect his expertise was literary.” Well, I ain’t no Ring Lardner, people, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard tell of “clumpy humor.” It’s true that some of my jokes have had to huddle together for warmth in recent months, because the Bush Administration has been deliberately withholding heat from blue states (and no, that isn’t a paranoid fantasy, David-- the BTU readouts don’t lie, dude), but that doesn’t make them “clumpy.” In fact, as the recent Koufax Awards have definitively demonstrated, this blog’s humor is exceptionally smooth, with a full body and an effervescent finish.  Cheers!

More important, this blog has a really good memory.  For example: David appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on February 1 and claimed that although he had been invited to speak at Hamilton College, it was at the behest of “conservative kids”:  “It’s not like the faculty brought me up there,” he said.  But actually, it was like the faculty brought him up there.  In fact, it was exactly like the faculty brought him up there.  And who says so?  Why, David Horowitz says so-- or he did, on his very own blog back on September 18, 2002:

Today I am at Hamilton College in Clinton NY to speak on the Sixties. It is one of the rare occasions I have been officially invited, in this case by historian Maurice Isserman with whom I have had an email correspondence for some time. Isserman is that rare specimen, an honest leftist. He has written an excellent biography of Michael Harrington called The Other American, and one of the only studies of the Sixties by a leftist that I would recommend, If I Had A Hammer. I had dinner with Maurice and another leftist here whom I respect, Phil Klinkner, the author of a book on the civil rights movement, The Unsteady March, whom I once blasted on these pages. Having talked at length to Klinkner I realize I misjudged him, an error encouraged by the fact that his article appeared in The Nation.

Well, misjudging Klinkner was an understandable mistake on David’s part, and it was good of him to own up to it-- The Nation is part of The Network, after all.  And speaking of The Nation, I see that Bruce Shapiro’s memory of Horowitz’s visit to Hamilton is every bit as good as mine.  Anyway, David is right-- Maurice Isserman is an honest leftist.  Let us all emulate his example, cough cough.

On the “Academic Bill of Rights” front, by the way, David is now claiming that

[w]hen I drafted the Academic Bill of Rights-- and before I published it-- I took pains to vet the text with three leftwing academics-- Stanley Fish, Todd Gitlin and Michael Berube-- and with Eugene Volokh, a libertarian law professor at UCLA, who is one of the nation’s leading experts on First Amendment law. Anything in the original draft of the Academic Bill of Rights that so much as irritated these gentlemen I removed.

But as Stanford professor Graham Larkin has pointed out (with a little help from Fish, Gitlin, and me), that’s not quite right either.

Thanks once again to everyone who voted for me in the Koufaxes and honored me with three very respectable finishes.  This humble blog vows to remain humble, to remain full-bodied, and most of all, to remain smooth.

UPDATE:  SMOOTH CREDIT WHERE SMOOTH CREDIT IS DUE
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I remember David’s visit to Hamilton College because he wrote to me about it back in 2002-03 when we were sparring about leftist “second thoughts” and the leadership of the antiwar movement.  At the time, he complained to me that he rarely received invitations to speak as a serious intellectual historian of the sixties, and I’d replied that surely this was partly his fault:  you invite David Horowitz to your campus, you don’t know whether you’re going to get the guy who aspires to be a serious intellectual historian of the sixties, or the agent provocateur who peppers campus newspapers with ads that claim (among other things) that welfare constitutes a form of reparations for slavery (which must surely come as a surprise to all the white folks who received welfare checks between 1935 and 1996!).  But I did not know that Horowitz had-- ah, how should I put this-- innocently misstated the facts about his invitation to Hamilton when he appeared on The O’Reilly Factor.  For that I have to thank the invaluable Rick Perlstein, who sent me a transcript of the show (which, in my computer-coffee travails, I quickly misplaced):

O’REILLY: All right. We’re talking—Nancy Rabinowitz is on the faculty at Hamilton, and . . .

HOROWITZ: Right.

O’REILLY: You know-- but it is to Hamilton’s credit that you were invited to speak there, correct?

HOROWITZ: Yes. Well, I-- you know, the conservative kids invited me.  It’s a little different when you’re invited as a-- you know, a speaker paid by and invited by the faculty. It’s not like the faculty brought me up there.

Thanks, Rick!  Now we know that honest leftist professors who invite David to speak on their campuses run the risk of being pissed on in national media.  Smooth!

Posted by Michael on 02/23 at 05:54 PM
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