Friday, May 25, 2007

New York Times and Columbia U

The New York Times Supports Thought Control: The Massad Case
Edward S. Herman

The New York Times has never been a very courageous newspaper in times of
political hysteria and civil liberties threats. When Bertrand Russell was
denied the right to fill his appointment at CCNY in 1940, following an ugly
campaign by a rightwing Catholic faction opposed to his positions on
divorce and marriage, the paper not only failed to defend him, its belated
editorial called the appointment "impolitic and unwise" and criticized him
for not withdrawing when the going got hot ("The Russell Case," April 20,
1940). Russell pointed out in a published reply something the editors had
missed: that there was a serious matter of principle at stake; that a
withdrawal would have been "cowardly and selfish" and would have "tacitly
assented to the proposition that substantial groups should be allowed to
drive out of public office individuals whose opinions, race or nationality
they find repugnant" (April 26, 1940).

During the McCarthy era also the Times failed to stand by its ex-Communist
employees who were willing to tell all to the Times officials, but not turn
informers. They were fired, and in its news and editorials the paper failed
to oppose the witch hunt with vigor and on the basis of principle.
Publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger himself wrote an editorial assailing the
use of the Fifth Amendment in appearances before the House Committee on
UnAmerican Activities (August 6, 1948).

We are in another period of escalating attacks on civil liberties, with
the Patriot Act, an aggressive rightwing administration, open threats to
retaliate against judicial failures to follow rightwing dictates, and
perpetual aggression to create a justification for repressive policies at
home. An important additional factor is the steadily increasing
aggressiveness of pro-Zionist forces, both in the United States and
elsewhere, who have fought to contain criticism of Israeli policies by any
means, including harassment, intimidation, threats, boycotts, claims of
"anti-semitism," occasional resort to violence, and other forms of
pressure. While sometimes allegedly based on the need for fairness, balance
and truthfulness, these campaigns are completely one-sided and are
invariably aimed at getting alternative views and inconvenient facts

Attacks on critics of Israel are of long standing. Individuals like Edward
Said and Noam Chomsky have been vilified and threatened for years, and both
frequently needed police protection at speech venues, at work or at home.
The situation has worsened in the Bush-2 era, in good part because of the
cultivated hysteria of the "war on terror" and congenial environment
provided by Bush, the strengthening of the rightwing media, and the demands
imposed by Israeli policies. On the latter point, it has long been noted
that increased Israeli violence and land seizure, which causes greater
international hostility to Israel, induces a new protective response by
"defenders of Israel." In recent years nobody who criticizes Israeli
policies has escaped attack--not attack by intellectual argument, but by
ad hominem assault, spam invasions, the use of stolen addresses to
embarrass, threats, and campaigns to discredit and silence. For these
attackers the end justifies any means, including, of course, lies (for one
episode in the extensive lying career of Harvard law professor Alan
Dershowitz, see the letter exchange between him and Noam Chomsky, Boston
Globe, May 17, May 25 and June 5, 1973).

The Bush-Sharon era has witnessed the emergence of McCarthyite institutions
like Campus Watch and the David Project, designed to police academic Middle
East studies for un-Israeli-patriotic thoughts, putting pressure on
academics and administrators to intellectually cleanse, and providing
targets for vigilantism. There are even current proposals to legislate for
"balance" and "fairness" in Middle East studies both at the state and
federal level. These vigilante efforts and attempts to politicize the
university are serious threats to free speech, academic freedom, and the
independence of the university. They are also threats to integrity and
truth, with the main target criticism of Israeli policy and the aim being
to make the official Israeli version of history the sole legitimate narrative.

It is in this context that we must evaluate the Joseph Massad case,
Columbia University's handling of that case, and the New York Times'
editorial on "Intimidation at Columbia" (April 7, 2005). Massad, who
teaches courses in Middle Eastern studies at Columbia, and is critical of
Israeli policies in Palestine, has been under assault from pro-Zionist
forces, in class and outside, for years, although running an open class,
tolerating hostile and often irrelevant questions, many times by outsiders
and "auditors," and with a record of having never thrown anybody out of
class for harassment (for documents by Massad and others bearing on this
record, see the links provided at the end of this article).

In a decent and honest environment, any focus on "intimidation" would be on
the intimidation of Joseph Massad, whose life has been made very stressful
and whose freedom to teach and effectiveness as a teacher has been
threatened by this campaign of harassment and Massad and his students are
not alone in victimization by this campaign for the hegemony of an
official truth.

But in the indecent and post-Orwellian world in which we live, Massad is
the intimidator, several students he allegedly treated harshly are the true
victims, and justice demands an inquiry on this alleged intimidation and a
possible disciplining or firing of this intimidator. Thus, Columbia
University's administration, responding to the hegemony campaign in the
Daily News, New York Post, Wall Street Journal, and by other organized
groups and individuals, appointed a grievance committee to look into the
allegations of intimidation of students by Massad and a colleague who
have failed to follow the official narrative. But this committee had no
instruction to consider the intimidation of Massad et al., although both
the committee and New York Times acknowledge that he and others have had
their classes "infiltrated by hecklers and surreptitious monitors, and they
received hate mail and death threats" ("Intimidation at Columbia"). Put
otherwise, the admitted systematic intimidation of the faculty, clearly a
threat to academic freedom and the possibility of honest teaching and
research, is off the agenda for an inquiry into intimidation; claims by
several students that are disputed and clearly part of a larger campaign
of intimidation involving Campus Watch, David Horowitz and other
nationally-based intimidators, must be taken seriously.

The Columbia grievance committee displayed bias by its willingness to
accept a one-sided assignment in which only student intimidation was at
issue. Their bias was also evident in their handling of the student
complaints. The two complaints about Massad were declared "credible"
although made belatedly and contested by Massad. The committee does not
state explicitly that Massad's denial in the classroom case was
"incredible" and that Massad (and his three student witnesses) lied, so
"credible," undefined, appears to mean not disproved and theoretically
possible, and the committee's finding is therefore not only asinine and
damaging to Massad, it opens a Pandora's box to future accusations
of intimidation.

The "most serious" student accusation, which dates back to the Spring of
2002, was that Massad said to a student "If you are going to deny the
atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my
classroom." This statement was confirmed by one student and an outsider
allegedly present but unnoticed by others. Massad denied the accusation and
was supported by three students. The committee noted that the accusing
student didn't leave the classroom, and expulsion was contrary to Massad's
policy (with no such case ever reported). The student failed to complain in
2002 and did not mention the incident in her evaluation sheet for the
course. The other student accusation was not in a classroom, the time and
place were vague, and the alleged statement by Massad, while harsh was
conceivable in the heat of a private argument; but the student and
incident were not recollected by Massad. These incidents might have
happened, but they might not, and actual incidents might have been
rewritten to serve a political agenda. The grievance committee doesn't even
mention these possibilities, nor does it place them in the context of
continuous harassment and intimidation from the side of the purported
victims that might be considered to reduce their "credibility."

A third demonstration of the grievance committee's bias is its suggestion
that the failure of the student victims to complain earlier was a result
of a deficient grievance procedure at Columbia. The committee said that
it was only a "result of these failures that outside advocacy groups
devoted to purposes tangential to those of the University were able to
intervene to take up complaints expressed by some students." But not only
is this a fallacy in that there were several routes to complaint at the
time these incidents occurred, which the students failed to tap, the
committee fails to note the possibility that the absence of earlier
complaints might be because the incident or incidents didn't happen or were
later inflated in seriousness, constructed or made serious only as part of
the escalating attacks on Massad and other dissidents from the official
line. The committee premises the truthfulness of the complainants and
ignores their possible role in a larger campaign of suppression.

Turning to the New York Times editorial, although noting in the penultimate
paragraph that the accused faculty members had had their classes
infiltrated, disrupted, and monitored by outsiders, and had been recipients
of hate mail and death threats, the editors did not criticize Columbia for
failing to act to prevent these numerous abuses threatening academic
freedom, nor did they even hint that any remedy was called for. This was
apparently acceptable intimidation, coincidentally carried out against
individuals challenging the official narrative that the New York Times
itself has adhered to closely (see my article on the media's treatment of
Israel's approved ethnic cleansing: The editors focus on
Massad, allegedly "clearly guilty" of ill temper on two occasions, although
under continuous provocation over several years. The editors misrepresent
the facts even here the grievance committee called the charges "credible,"
but didn't explicitly deny the credibility of Massad and his witnesses.
Neither the committee nor editors had the integrity to note that the
student charges were old and that they might have been constructed as part
of an organized campaign of derogation; that this campaign was not
scrupulous, and that the incidents might have been edited or entirely

In its last paragraph the Times editors contend that the grievance
committee's mandate should have extended to the question of "anti-Israel
bias" and that Columbia should hire and fire "with more determination and
care." In short, the Newspaper of Record tells its readers
that universities should police thought to keep out unwarranted bias,
which seems to pose a threat in only one direction the editors have never
mentioned the possibility of unwarranted pro-Israeli bias, which for the
editors may be inconceivable.

Joseph Massad is in good company. The editors of the New York Times found
Bertrand Russell unworthy of an appointment to CCNY based on his politics
and a bandwagon of hostile attacks. Sixty four years later they implicitly
call for the removal of Joseph Massad based on his politics and an
organized campaign of derogation. As Russell pointed out to the editors
back in 1940, it is contrary to the fundamental principles of a free
society to drive out of their position "individuals whose opinions, race
or nationality they find repugnant." This point remains valid even where
done under the cover of alleged "intimidation" by the victim being driven out.

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