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Thursday, June 10, 2004

Dinesh and me

On Tuesday, Media Matters for America reported that Dinesh D’Souza has been hired by CNN.  They duly noted a 1995 Washington Post article which mentioned some of D’Souza’s Krazy Kollege Hijinx with the Dartmouth Review, but they didn’t note that one of the gay undergraduates who was “outed” by D’Souza at Dartmouth actually became depressed and suicidal as a result. 

How do I know this?  Well, I didn’t go to Dartmouth, but I did have an extended textual run-in with D’Souza in 1991, just after he’d published Illiberal Education, the book that catapulted him from wingnut obscurity (his first book was a hagiography of Jerry Falwell, which concluded, “listening to Falwell speak, one gets a sense that something is right about America, after all").  I told some of the story in my second book, Public Access (1994), which I’m happy to reprise here for the benefit of CNN-watchers and D’Souza fans everywhere.

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On May 13, 1991, David Corn reported in the Nation that D’Souza had maliciously “outed” some gay students at Dartmouth, and that he had later gloated over having done so at the New York Athletic Club.  Corn was right about item one, and wrong on item two; D’Souza wrote to the Nation asking for a full retraction, and got a partial retraction instead.  This prompted a second letter from D’Souza, who by now had grown nasty:  “My friends tell me not to waste my time because I should expect lies from the ‘loony left,’” he wrote.  “I hope I am not naive in holding you to a higher standard."[1] He sent Corn faxes of documents he believed would clear his name, and also wrote to the Village Voice, in more measured tones:

Michael Bérubé, in a June 18 article, alleged that while I was the editor of the Dartmouth Review, I “proudly published the stolen private correspondence of Dartmouth’s gay and lesbian students.” This claim, which was first printed by the Nation, is false.  Indeed, when presented with the facts, The Nation retracted the claim.

What really happened was this:  the Review’s article concerned the Gay Students Association [sic] as a college-recognized and college-funded group.  The article named the five officers of the group who were listed with the college’s Committee on Student Organizations.  Such listing is a requirement for funding and the names are open to public scrutiny.  No other names or identities were revealed and all the information in the article came from the public file.

Later, one of the officers named claimed he was not affiliated with the group and had been erroneously named.  Apparently, the young man was not openly gay, but made the error of accepting an officers’ position with the group, thus putting his name on the public record.  The Review was in no position to know this and regretted in print having named the young man.[2]

By the time the Voice apprised me of D’Souza’s letter, I had gotten in touch with both David Corn and Victor Navasky of the Nation, wanting to know the status of their initial report and what they called its subsequent “clarification and amplication.” Corn sent me copies of the documents D’Souza sent him, and I dug up an old story I recalled having been published in the New York Times about the time I graduated from college.  And here’s where the story gets weird.

D’Souza’s third paragraph to the Voice was gratuitous, since I had written nothing about any subsequent exchange between the Dartmouth Review and the Gay Student Alliance.  But stranger still, his entire letter was contradicted by the very documents he had sent to Corn, which clearly showed that the Review, in an article under D’Souza’s name, had in fact published excerpts from students’ correspondence—as well as facsimiles of official and unofficial GSA documents, whose legal-pad scrawls revealed the name and official position of the student who had requested that the Review not associate him with the GSA.  I then made a few phone calls to Dartmouth, and soon I had the text of my reply to D’Souza, which ran as follows:

What really happened was this:  D’Souza’s May 18, 1981 Review article also included anonymous excerpts from what he called “personal letters from students confessing their gay sentiments.” The New York Times revealed D’Souza’s source in 1982, when it reported that some “membership and correspondence files of the Gay Student Alliance disappeared from the College Center, and . . . were printed in The Review.” Dolores Johnson, former director of Dartmouth’s Council on Student Organizations, confirmed to me that none of D’Souza’s information could have come from a “public file,” because “no administrative office keeps lists of the membership of, or letters to, any student organization.” (The July 8 Nation has retracted its previous retraction.) As for D’Souza’s last paragraph:  what can he possibly mean by saying that the Review “regretted in print having named the young man”?  D’Souza offered no apology; on the contrary, he intensified his previous allegation? by publishing facsimiles of the stolen GSA documents.  His only sentence of “regret” was “we are sorry that it has come to this.” I cannot guess why D’Souza has now chosen to heap one substantial distortion atop another.  But I fail to see how any responsible person can continue to take D’Souza seriously; conservatives should begin shopping around for a more credible representative.

Because of the Voice’s strict space limitations (dang those space limitations!), I could not go on to say that the 1982 Times article had also reported that “one student named, according to his friends, became severely depressed and talked repeatedly of suicide.  The grandfather of another who had not found the courage to tell his family of his homosexuality learned about his grandson when he got his copy of The Review in the mail.” [3] Nor could I explain that, for whatever reason, D’Souza himself had provided David Corn with precisely the material I needed to contradict the extraneous claim in his third paragraph.

So first, let it be noted that D’Souza, however unwittingly, drove a fellow student to contemplate suicide because of his article on the Gay Student Alliance.  (To put this in terms that craven cable news organizations will understand, Michael Savage merely told a gay caller to die; D’Souza in his youth was somewhat more, shall we say, proactive.) Second, let us acknowledge that in the ten years between that event and his exchanges with the Voice and the Nation, D’Souza learned that his behavior in 1981 was a political liability, and would have to be met with nothing less than complete denial.  Third, let us marvel at the cockiness with which D’Souza demanded a retraction from the Nation, proclaiming his knowledge that he would meet with “lies from the loony left.” Fourth, let us wonder what the Sam Hill is going on with a character who sends his critics the evidence that convicts him, presumably in the belief that it exonerates him.

[1] Dinesh D’Souza, letter to The Nation, July 8, 1991, p. 38.
[2] Dinesh D’Souza, letter to the Village Voice, July 9, 1991, p. 5.
[3] Dudley Clendinen, “Conservative Paper Stirs Dartmouth.” New York Times, May 30, 1982, p. 23.

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-- All right, now, does any of this matter 13 years (or 23 years) later?  Not necessarily, save for the fact that D’Souza has never apologized for, or even acknowledged, his conduct in this affair.  But for those of you who are more interested in the Mature D’Souza, here are some highlights from his magnum opus, the D’Souza Moby-Dick, more commonly known as The End of Racism:

-----> “[The Civil Rights Movement] sought to undermine white racism through a protest strategy that emphasized the recognition of basic rights for blacks, without considering that racism might be fortified if blacks were unable to exercise their rights effectively and responsibly.”

-----> “Most African American scholars simply refuse to acknowledge the pathology of violence in the black underclass, apparently convinced that black criminals as well as their targets are both victims:  the real culprit is societal racism.  Activists recommend federal jobs programs and recruitment into the private sector. Yet it seems unrealistic, bordering on the surreal, to imagine underclass blacks with their gold chains, limping walk, obscene language, and arsenal of weapons doing nine-to-five jobs at Procter and Gamble or the State Department.”

-----> “Increasingly it appears that it is liberal antiracism that is based on ignorance and fear:  ignorance of the true nature of racism, and fear that the racist point of view better explains the world than its liberal counterpart.”

-----> “The American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well.”

-----> “The popular conception seems to be that American slavery as an institution involved white slaveowners and black slaves.  Consequently, it is easy to view slavery as a racist institution.  But this image is complicated when we discover that most whites did not own slaves, even in the South; that not all blacks were slaves; that several thousand free blacks and American Indians owned black slaves.  An examination of these frequently obscured aspects of American slavery calls into question the facile equation of racism and slavery.”

-----> “If America as a nation owes blacks as a group reparations for slavery, what do blacks as a group owe America for the abolition of slavery?”

-----> “How did [Martin Luther] King succeed, almost single-handedly, in winning support for his agenda?  Why was his Southern opposition virtually silent in making counterarguments?”

Passages like these lead readers like me to believe that the easiest way to slander D’Souza is to quote him directly.  But I don’t want to suggest that this 700-page tome can be summed up in its pull quotes; let’s look at the main argument, too.  It was not long after the book was published that the Wall Street Journal devoted half a page of op-ed space to an excerpt from D’Souza’s concluding chapter-- the part where he finally gets around to delivering his payload, arguing for the repeal of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

D’Souza’s rationale for repeal is clear:  ever since the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, he claims, the federal government has been “the primary threat to black prospects.” In a truly free market, by contrast, racial discrimination would not exist, since “discrimination is only catastrophic when virtually everyone colludes to enforce it.” D’Souza’s case in point is major league baseball, about which he poses a truly novel thought-experiment:  “Consider what would happen,” he writes, “if every baseball team in America refused to hire blacks.” Lest we are unable to imagine such a thing, D’Souza guides us step by step:

Blacks would suffer most, because they would be denied the opportunity to play professional baseball.  And fans would suffer, because the quality of games would be diminished.  But what if only a few teams—say the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers—refused to hire blacks?  African Americans as a group would suffer hardly at all, because the best black players would offer their services to other teams.  The Yankees and the Dodgers would suffer a great deal, because they would be deprived of the chance to hire talented black players.  Eventually competitive pressure would force the Yankees and Dodgers either to hire blacks, or to suffer losses in games and revenue.

There’s something disingenuous about D’Souza’s plans for integration, since D’Souza had argued earlier that Jim Crow laws were “designed to preserve and encourage” black self-esteem.  But let’s assume, for the nonce, that D’Souza is serious here, and let’s assume also that franchises like the Yankees of the 1950s or the Red Sox of the 1980s could not win games without a sizable contingent of black ballplayers.  How precisely is this argument supposed to work in American society at large?  Are we supposed to believe that bankers and realtors don’t discriminate against black clients for fear that their rivals down the street will snap up all those hard-hitting, base-stealing young Negroes?  Or is it that when black motorists are tired of being pulled over in New Jersey they will simply take their business to the more hospitable clime of Hawai’i?

It’s noteworthy that two African-American conservatives (Glenn Loury, Robert Woodson) resigned in protest from the American Enterprise Institute when The End of Racism was published (D’Souza was an AEI fellow at the time).  But it’s even more noteworthy that not a single one of their white colleagues joined them.

More generally, no one has noted that Dinesh D’Souza is himself the most visible contradiction of the Right’s major premise in the academic culture wars—namely, that campus conservatives are persecuted by liberal faculty and intimidated into silence.  For here, after all, is perhaps the most vocal Young Conservative of them all, a founder and editor-in-chief of the Dartmouth Review who’s since gone on to Princeton University, the Reagan Administration, and lucrative fellowships from the Olin Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institution, and now a gig at CNN.  He is, in short, a phenomenon.  No matter how diligently his critics pore through his work, demonstrating time and again that the stuff doesn’t meet a single known standard for intellectual probity, he is still taken seriously—and rewarded richly—by conservative foundations and the (hack, hack) liberal media.

Of course, you could argue that in the age of semi-literate screechers like Coulter, Hannity, and Savage, Dinesh D’Souza looks almost distinguished and donnish by comparison. But that’s their plan, folks! They’re trying to lull us into “well, at least he’s not as bad as the rest of the lineup,” when in fact any reasonably civilized society would have tuned out any one of these creeps long ago.

Please feel free to get in touch with CNN to see what they think about the work of their new “analyst.” And feel free to excerpt any of the choice D’Souza excerpts provided here.

UPDATE:  D’Souza is still at it, this time via the Washington Post.  Have we had enough yet?

Posted by Michael on 06/10 at 05:45 AM
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