Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)
May 18, 2006 Thursday
Mike Littwin, Rocky Mountain News
Let me add my congratulations to Bill O'Reilly and Bill Owens and the newspaper editorialists and the radio talk-show boys.
You got your man.
Ward Churchill is apparently guilty - if not exactly guilty as charged.
He'll soon be fired. Or, as two of five committee members have recommended, suspended for five years. Five years? Isn't that like hanging someone for five years?
And then - check your calendars - the court case can begin.
But Churchill won't be fired for the reason you want him fired. Not that it matters. This was a witch hunt. And to quote myself, which I'm pretty sure is not plagiarism, even a witch hunt can occasionally turn up a witch.
In the era of the overblown story, the Churchill saga is a story on steroids.
And even if it's too late to put this story in context, it's never too late to try. We could start this way: Churchill is not important. Or, maybe it's better to start this way: Churchill's fate is virtually no consequence.
Ward Churchill was an obscure academic whose deservedly obscure writings came to light years after he wrote them. The writings - particularly the 9/11 essay comparing victims to "little Eichmanns" - offended many people. The 9/11 essay, of course, was designed to offend many people - not that many people have ever read it.
And because that essay offended many right-thinking people, and also governors and editorial writers and radio talk-show hosts and Bill O'Reilly, CU devoted much time and much energy toward getting an obscure, underqualified, insignificant, if willfully provocative and controversial, professor fired.
If you believe the 125-page report - yes, 125-page, single-spaced, multi-footnoted, produced-at-who-knows-how-much-cost report - Churchill is guilty of misrepresentations, distortions, plagiarism and various crimes against academia.
Of course, we knew much of this even before the 125-page report was made public. And if the conclusions are correct - and I came away from my reading convinced - Churchill should obviously be fired. They can fire him twice for all I care. I'm firmly in the anti-plagiarism camp. Churchill is accused of inventing facts to fit his theories, which would qualify him for a spot in the Bush administration, but not at the state's flagship university.
I don't buy Churchill's contention that the committee was out to get him. I do, however, buy the committee's concern that the university was out to get Churchill.
Let me quote from the report: The committee is "troubled by the origins of, and skeptical concerning the motives for, the current investigation."
The investigation didn't begin, the committee notes, until after the "little Eichmanns" essay. And it didn't begin, the committee also notes, for years after scholarly critiques of Churchill's writings had apparently left CU officials entirely unconcerned.
He's apparently guilty. But we know that only because, fortunately for his critics, his writings were ripe for investigation.
Let's be honest. You don't care if Churchill plagiarized. The governor isn't calling for Churchill to quit because he willfully misrepresented facts in his footnotes. Mark Udall, planning to run for the U.S. Senate in 2008, isn't calling on Churchill to quit because he defamed Capt. John Smith.
This story has gotten so much attention because if Churchill, the radical who definitely defamed 9/11 victims, is guilty of something, we're supposed to believe that the left-wing academia - which he is supposed to symbolize - is guilty of something, too. Of course, not even David Horowitz would seriously try to make that case. Does anyone really believe liberal professors are not sufficiently liberal with their attributions?
Let's look, briefly, at what some of the 125 pages have to say. And then, just to make sure you're paying attention (and, please, no gum in class), we'll follow with a small quiz.
In one finding, the committee says there was no basis for Churchill to accuse John Smith - on "pretty strong circumstantial evidence" - of guilt in infecting an Indian tribe with smallpox. In another, it says Churchill misrepresented the "blood quantum" standard as it applies, or doesn't apply, to the General Allotment Act of 1887.
Now, let me ask: If Churchill had never written the "little Eichmanns" essay, would you care what Churchill had to say about blood quantum? About John Smith? Pocahontas?
I've talked to Churchill only once. I don't know what his motives are.
He seems determined to make the genocide of American Indians even more terrible than it was.
Comparing the horror of one genocide to another is a fool's game. But the real context here suggests a far more dangerous game.
The committee tried to be honest about its investigation. It offered this analogy: If a cop was offended by a bumper sticker and pulled over the car for speeding, the driver, whatever his politics, would still be guilty of speeding.
Speeding is one thing. You can clock Churchill at about 85 miles an hour. What worries me is this:
In pursuit of Churchill and his offensive speech, apparently nobody ever saw a stop sign.