Naming-And Un-Naming-Names

Article excerpt

Two months after the September 11 attacks, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an academic watchdog group founded by Lynne Cheney, issued a report grandly titled "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It." Its authors proclaimed that while "citizens have rallied behind the President wholeheartedly.... college and university faculty have been the weak link in America's response." They painted academe as a passivist fifth column undermining the war effort through equivocation, "moral relativism" and outright opposition, noting: "Some [professors] even pointed accusatory fingers, not at the terrorists, but at America itself." And they named names: academics who had supposedly pointed such fingers and uttered such equivocations in 117 instances collected from media sources. They also announced that they would send the list to 3,000 trustees at colleges across the country.

Some of those named, such as University of Washington psychology professor David Barash, cheered at making ACTA's list: "Before, I was disappointed at being too young or too inconsequential to make Nixon's list." Others howled, however, that they'd been misrepresented and quoted out of context, leading the authors, ACTA president Jerry Martin and vice president Anne Neal (both of whom served under Cheney at the National Endowment for the Humanities), to yank the list off the group's website (www.goacta.org) after a week. It was soon back, however, minus the names, where it remains--not quite blacklisting, but a weird, anonymous graylist.

This switch went unremarked, and ACTA--which according to the Media Transparency project received nearly $700,000 from the conservative Olin, Bradley, Earhart and Sarah Scaife foundations between 1997 and 2000, and which was hired by Governor Jeb Bush to train Florida's 143 university trustees--continued to score the sort of high-volume attention most watchdog groups only dream of. The Wall Street Journal's editorialists and a Washington Times commentary endorsed the findings of "Defending Civilization"; Washington Post columnist Jonathan Yardley endorsed the similar findings of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which provided ACTA with some of its citations. Leftist "thought-police," Yardley intoned, "have launched a new onslaught on free speech and revived the anti-Americanism that was pandemic on the campuses in the age of political correctness." Other papers reported the claims in more neutral fashion while conceding ACTA's main premise: that it had actually assembled what Emily Eakin, in the New York Times, called "117 anti-American statements heard on campuses."

In fact, many of the statements were innocuous (e.g., "We have to learn to use courage for peace instead of war"), while one, by Oberlin freshman Jim Casteleiro, voices the appreciation of history that ACTA itself extols: "War created people like Osama bin Laden, and more war will create more people like him." Former US ambassador at large to Russia Strobe Talbott, now at Yale, makes the list by noting, "It is from the desperate, angry and bereaved that these suicide pilots came." He shares billing with Arun Gandhi, the Mahatma's grandson, who told a UNC, Chapel Hill, gathering, "We must acknowledge our role in helping to create monsters in the world, find ways to contain these monsters without hurting more innocent people and then redefine our role in the world."

Some of the other statements ACTA cites do express strong opposition to the post-9/11 campaign, and a blithe zeal for blaming America. But the most obnoxious, which leads ACTA's list--"I was cheering when the Pentagon got hit because I know about the brutality of the military. …